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Do it Better: How to Participate in the MLK Day of Service

By Joyce Venezia Suss

The lives of people honored with a federal holiday are generally marked with a day off from work or school, parades or ceremonies, and store sales. The federal holiday to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is also a nationwide day of community service, remembering the legacy of the civil rights leader who taught values of courage, truth, compassion, dignity, humility, justice – and service.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation, marking King’s birthday as a national holiday. King was born Jan. 15, 1929, but his federal holiday is observed annually on the third Monday in January. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, expanding the holiday into a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.

The federal agency AmeriCorps leads the “MLK Day of Service” effort, encouraging Americans to volunteer that day in a way which improves their community. This year’s MLK Day is Monday, Jan. 16, although many organizations welcome volunteering beyond just that one day. lists volunteer opportunities that are searchable by zip code. Locally, Gentiva Hospice in Red Bank seeks volunteers who can provide companionship to its patients, such as conversation, art at the bedside, watching TV, going for walks, pet therapy or respite care. has local opportunities: Pinwheel Place, a crisis nursery in Eatontown, needs volunteers to deliver diapers and other basic needs to families in need. Habitat for Humanity in Monmouth County seeks construction volunteers, especially those with carpentry skills.

Lunch Break in Red Bank regularly needs volunteers in many capacities, including serving food, washing dishes, shelving food, cleaning tables and floors, etc. Volunteers must register in advance online at 

The Jersey Cares Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service engages people of all ages and backgrounds to embody Dr. King’s vision on Jan. 16 through a variety of projects, including some that are virtual. For details, visit provides information about support, resources, and services for Monmouth County residents – and also seeks volunteers. Visit the website and search for volunteer opportunities.

To plan your own MLK Day of Service, here are some suggestions:

• Organize a clothing drive and donate collected items to a local homeless shelter. Collections can also be focused on a specific need, such as diapers, new socks and underwear.

• To organize a coat drive, visit for helpful tips.

• The Junior League of Monmouth County accepts donations for its Period Product Pantry. Learn more at

• Coordinate a food drive for a local food bank such as Fulfill, located at 3300 Route 66 in Neptune. Commonly requested non-perishable items are canned tuna, chicken and salmon, canned vegetables and fruits, cooking oils, shelf-stable milk, pancake mix and syrup, peanut butter and jelly, canned soups, fruit juice, hot and cold cereals, and ready-to-eat canned meals such as chili, stew, ravioli, chicken with rice, and spaghetti with meatballs.

• Many libraries welcome volunteers to help organize shelves, plan and help at special events, read at children’s story times, filing and general clerical assistance, and more. Contact your local library for details.

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