A volunteer with the nonprofit organization Samaritan’s Feet watches a child write their dream on the wall after receiving a new pair of shoes at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event in Landover, Maryland. Twenty-five years ago, Congress changed King’s birthday from a holiday to am official day of service. (Corporation for National and Community Service)

Since 1986, the third Monday of January has honored the life and legacy of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. with an official holiday. For years, the holiday was celebrated as a day off, a long weekend or maybe even a beach vacation.

Because of his legacy as a civil rights leader, members of Congress agreed the holiday should be more than just a day off. King once said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” So 25 years ago, Congress made it an official day of service. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) began promoting Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a “day on, not a day off.”

CNCS has worked with organizations across the country to organize service events. Throughout the history of the MLK Day of Service, projects have gotten bigger and better, according to CNCS spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield.

“I think the biggest difference [since the beginning] is that it really has taken on a life of its own,” Warfield said.

A family volunteers together on MLK Day last year in Arlington. (Matthew M. Guinan/Corporation for National and Community Service)

But Martin Luther King Jr. Day is notabout a single day of service.

“King Day . . . is one day, but it can be a lifetime of service,” she said.

Warfield also wants to encourage families to think beyond planned service events.

“If there’s not an organized project where you are, you can do a project by yourself,” she said. “A neighborhood cleanup or stream cleanup are great opportunities that you can do everywhere.”

Service opportunities for MLK Day and beyond can be found on the CNCS website. A few family-friendly opportunities in the Washington area are listed below. (Ask a parent for help signing up.)

District of Columbia

MLK Feed the Hood Day of Action: Help make 1,000 care packages for those fighting homelessness in the area. Volunteers are encouraged to bring $10 to help with care package preparation. Children are encouraged to join.

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 3200 Sixth Street in Southeast Washington.

When: Saturday, noon to 3 p.m.

Who: Children of all ages with adult supervision.

More information: Visit serve.dc.gov/service/martin-luther-king-jr-day-ser
or the “MLK Feed the Hood Day of Action” Facebook page.


MLK Day Weekend — Valentines Challenge: Volunteers will be making thousands of Valentine’s Day cards and care packages for several foster care programs, such as Foster Care to Success.

Where: City of Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department, Station 3, 4081 University Drive, Fairfax.

When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Who: No minimum age.

More information: Visit volunteer fairfax.org/events/valentines-challenge.


2020 MLK Day at Marriott Conference Center: Put “snow day” boxes together for the homeless — including fleece blankets, decorated cards and packaged food. The event will be at the Marriott Conference Center and other sites in Montgomery County.

Where: Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road, Bethesda.

When: Monday, 1 to 3 p.m.

Who: Volunteers younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

More information: montgomery countymd.gov/volunteercenter/volun