Caught between colliding pressures of a pandemic, political unrest and outcries for social justice, this Martin Luther King Day of Service is unlike any other. But despite the limitations of the season, this federal holiday doesn't have to be any less impactful.
Watch the Palm Springs Black History Committee live event Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Celebration by clicking here. It starts at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 17.
Now more than ever, MLK Day of Service is enabling everyday people to roll up their sleeves and help their communities -- even while stuck at home. Here's how:
Building and sending care packages
Without the hassle of finding parking or forgetting your facemask at home, one way to spread goodwill on MLK Day is by making at-home care packages for those in need of cheer. Operation Gratitude is offering a number of virtual ways to spread joy to frontline workers and military members. With convenience in mind, this organization has set up an Amazon wish list through the Amazon Smile Program. After purchase, items like socks, sunscreen, and beef jerky are shipped to Operation Gratitude. From there, care packages are assembled and sent to those on the front lines.
"Volunteers are the heart and soul of Operation Gratitude," says Danielle Teconi, the organization's communications director.
"Anyone, from anywhere, can participate from home, as it's self-guided and self-paced," she explains.
As an added perk, eligible purchases made through the organization's wish list will kick back a small donation to the charity.
For crafty volunteers, Operation Gratitude also offers a step-by-step guide on how to make eye-catching letters of gratitude for military personnel and essential workers.
And, for those who sew, volunteers can lend their talents on MLK Day to create knitted crafts as a part of the organization's Hand Made with Love initiative. Soft keepsakes like crochet hats, scarves and handmade bags can cheer up deployed troops when home feels far away.
Teaching and learning opportunities
This year's day of service provides a timely opportunity to learn about existing public health disparities made worse for communities of color by Covid-19. In honor of Dr. King's commitment to public health access, Global Citizen 365 is hosting a national conversation on "Justice and the Covid-19 Health Crisis." The online event will take place via Zoom at 3 pm Eastern on Martin Luther King Day.
To teach the next generation of change agents, the organization is hosting a virtual read-aloud recording. Global Citizen 365 is seeking volunteers willing to film an animated selfie-video. Those interested are asked to record themselves reading a children's book about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights or civic engagement. Once submitted, the non-profit will post the videos online and share them with families.
Helping to sustain life
At a time when so many people are in pain, you can sustain life.
To learn where to donate blood, enter your zip code into the search tool set up by the American Red Cross. According to its website, the American Red Cross has a special need for donations from fully-recovered coronavirus survivors. Those who have fully recovered from the virus are urged to consider donating convalescent plasma. The convalescent plasma of fully recovered coronavirus survivors may contain antibodies helpful to critically ill Covid patients.
Another way to help sustain life on MLK Day is by volunteering to become a bone marrow donor with Be The Match. Bone marrow donations can save the lives of individuals battling blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, as well as blood disorders like sickle cell disease. Be The Match has an urgent plea for donations from communities of color—especially Black and African-American individuals. Of the organization's more than 22 million member registry, only 4% identify as Black or African American.
Due to the lack of representation, Be The Match says Black and African American patients are among the least likely to find a match. According to Kate McDermott, a public relations specialist at the organization, Black and African-American people only have a 23% chance of finding a suitable donor.
"That number is unacceptable to us. We want to make sure that all of our patients regardless of ethnic background are able to find the match that they need," she tells CNN. "Our mission is equal outcomes for all."
To encourage life-saving donations, Be The Match says it has created the Race Against Time campaign to urge communities of color to come forward to help sustain lives of color impacted by blood-related diseases.
As the pandemic forced people to prioritize physical health over mental wellness, many elderly citizens have suffered in silence. Programs like the Selfhelp's Virtual Senior Center program are seeking volunteers eager to share meaningful moments and smiles with seniors. At-home volunteers are needed to facilitate hour-long virtual classes for their senior students based on interests, hobbies and expertise. Classes are diverse, covering topics like cooking, birding, seated exercise, art and music history. Selfhelp says it operates the oldest and largest program providing comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America. It provides a special platform to accommodate the unique needs of these users as well.
"Just as the Virtual Senior Center offers emotional and physical health benefits to participants, volunteer facilitators become part of our community and learn from our clients as well," says Sandy Myers from Selfhelp Community Services. "We've learned the importance of strong online communities and are grateful for the work of our volunteers to make the VSC a vibrant community, especially throughout Covid."
Although based in New York, Selfhelp's virtual senior center is growing nationally. The team welcomes volunteers and senior students from across the country. And if individuals are interested in learning how to bring a virtual senior center to their neighborhood, Selfhelp can help.
Commemorating Dr. King's Legacy
To learn more about the life of Dr. King and how to honor his legacy, The King Center is hosting its online Beloved Community Commemorative Service to honor the late global civil rights icon. The event will stream virtually on the organization's webpage and Facebook account at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The service will feature a keynote address from Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House Church in Texas.