15 ways you can give back on MLK Day


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Many Americans honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by giving back or volunteering for MLK Day. However, this year, many people and agencies are foregoing in-person community or organization-based volunteering opportunities. 

If you’re looking for COVID-conscious ways you can help your community this year, there are more than a few options you can choose from. From cleaning up your block to donating to a local shelter, there’s a way to give back for even the busiest of schedules.

1. Donate to a local GoFundMe or Kickstarter

One of the easiest and quickest ways to give back to your community on MLK Day is by putting your money to work. Invest in local startups or help a family in need. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been plenty of families and individuals in need of help. 

You can use crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter to find local entrepreneurs or people in need, and donate to a cause that’s important to you and your community.

2. Donate gently used items

Before you head over to your local thrift shop, note that it may be closed or have limited donations based on your area’s COVID-19 procedures. Even if you can’t make it out to a physical store, you can give back through many online sites. 

If you have professional clothes, you can donate to Dress for Success, which collects clothes worldwide. Salvation Army, American Red Cross and local churches often have porch pickup options, too, if you’re trying to avoid potential shipping costs.

3. Order takeout for essential workers

Early in the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon to see local news reports about hospital workers getting free takeout from local restaurants. However, as the pandemic carries on and more restaurants are hurting, those stories aren’t as common.

As such, offering essential workers free takeout is a great way to help both essential workers and the restaurant you order from. Consider also expanding your definition of essential workers past hospitals. While they’re doing important work, grocery stores, public transportation and a slew of other essential services often get overlooked in these takeout runs.

4. Cheer up neighbors

The last year has been challenging for everyone, including those who are next door to you. MLK Day is a great way to give your neighbors some extra support. You can get small gifts, such as candles or baked goods, to pass out to those nearby. Leave personalized notes of encouragement or knock on their door to start an in-face conversation, if you can do so safely.

5. Beautify your street

No matter what neighborhood you live in, there’s something you can do to make it cleaner and more beautiful for everyone. Picking up trash off your street is a quick and simple way to show your neighbors that you care about them and your neighborhood. Just be sure to wear a mask and gloves when you do so.

If possible, you could even start a community garden. Of course, this will depend on whether your local climate and HOA or other guidelines allow you to do so. Whether it’s flowers, herbs, vegetables or fruit, a garden can be a great way to help your community.

6. Give career or academic advice

There are plenty of young professionals looking for help navigating the first years of their career. Many websites, such as LinkedIn, have forums and groups related to specific jobs where newcomers can ask questions. Many of these are even broken up by geographic regions. 

If you’re a professional, answer some of these questions, or even reach out to the individual to offer more personal advice. While this doesn’t have to develop into a full mentorship, you can always reach back out after MLK Day, too.

7. Donate to a shelter or food pantry

Even if your local shelters have to limit volunteers because of COVID-19, many of them desperately need supplies. Whether it’s a food pantry, woman’s shelter, homeless shelter or an LGBT+ youth shelter, there are public services in your neighborhood that are in need.

Reach out to these shelters and ask them for what they need. Food shelters often get lots of canned fruits and vegetables but little to make a full meal with. They may also serve a population that has dietary restrictions, such as Muslims or Jewish individuals. 

Note that monetary donations are often much appreciated by these shelters. While it’ll give you less instant gratification, charities and nonprofits often have networks and other ways to get essential supplies cheaper than you can. As such, a dollar in their hand can often go a lot farther than it would if you bought the donations for them. 

If you want to donate items, consider this guide.

8. Buy local and leave good reviews

More than ever, local small businesses are having a hard time competing with big box stores and online options. Buying local is one of the best ways you can support your local economy. 

If your local shops are physically closed or if you’re limiting your time outdoors, shop online. Check social media for local shops that are still selling online. You can also go on sites like Etsy and filter for local shops. After you make your purchase, leave a great review or talk about the shop on social media.

9. Help the blind

Local blind and low-vision individuals often need short-term help navigating their daily lives. Be My Eyes helps connect you with these individuals. For instance, someone may need a quick set of eyes to let them know if something has expired, what color something is, reading instructions, or even help them navigate a new environment.

10. Shop AmazonSmile

If you’re already shopping on Amazon, make your purchase go further with AmazonSmile. You can search AmazonSmile for local charities or causes important to you and have 0.5% of your purchases go to that charity. 

The donation comes at no extra cost to you, and you can do it all year long. Just make sure you shop using Smile.Amazon.com and not the normal Amazon site.

11. Become an organ donor

This is another pretty simple one. As of publication, there are about 109,000 Americans on the organ transplant waiting list. If you aren’t already a donor, it’s easy to sign up online. 

12. Donate blood

While you won’t probably be able to get this one done today, you can sign up to donate blood if you’re able to. The Red Cross has more information on who’s eligible to donate or how to find a local donation center. Note that there may be restrictions in place because of the pandemic, but most centers are still scheduling socially distanced donations.

13. Sign up to be a listener

Mental health is just as important as physical health. However, many people can’t afford therapy or counseling. Check-in on your friends today and ask them how they’re doing. 

You can also volunteer at a national or local crisis hotline. There are hotlines for suicide prevention, eating disorders, cancer, abuse, gambling, addiction and many other topics. 

There are also an increasing number of volunteer options using online chat, such as 7Cups. Many of these sites will require training, but the training will help you volunteer your time to help someone who just needs someone to listen to them. While 7Cups doesn’t require you to be a licensed social worker, therapist or psychologist, check other sites’ requirements before signing up.

14. Online tutoring

No matter if you’re a teacher or not, you can volunteer your time today to help students. Most schools have the day off, but that doesn’t mean their homework and assignments stop. Your tutoring can be as informal as asking on social media feeds or neighborhood groups if anyone has children who need some extra help. 

If you’re interested in more long-term volunteering, you can sign up through various online sites to tutor. You can also reach out to local schools or organizations to help through more local tutoring programs.

15. Pay it forward

If you plan on hopping through the drive-thru today, pay for the order behind you. Often, this can lead to a chain of pay-it-forward drive-thru orders that last well after you leave.

Another way to pay it forward in the drive-thru is ordering gift cards and giving them to employees. If you don’t want to give employees gift cards for their own workplace, come with gift cards to local shops or online stores. Even more simply, you can leave a good tip for the person who takes your order.

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This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image: Tim Brown / iStock


Kaitlyn Farley

Kaitlyn is MediaFeed’s senior editor. She is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, specializing in social justice and investigative reporting. She has worked at various radio stations and newsrooms, covering higher-education, local politics, natural disasters and investigative and watchdog stories related to Title IX and transparency issues.