MLK Day of Service : 10 Great Student Volunteer Ideas

Did you know the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday that has the designation by Congress to be a day of service? The slogan is “a day on, not a day off.” So Martin Luther King Day, is the perfect day you to do something for your community. When is this day of service? It is on the 3rd Monday in January.

MLK Day became a federal observed holiday in 1986. In 1994, Congress declared it a day of service. Unfortunately, states were not required to observe this holiday. Slowly, one by one, states began observing MLK Day of Service. Finally in the year 2000, all 50 states officially observed this important holiday.

Additionally, each idea listed below is based on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These ideas are based on organizations that help make the United States better for everyone.

Best Ways to Volunteer for MLK Day of Service

1. Hold a Coat Drive for One Warm Coat

“Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”

April 4, 1967 in New York City, Dr. King

We all can help mankind by helping all people in need get back on their feet. There are so many people of all races that need a warm coat. Keeping warming is such a basic need for all humans, especially during the winter months. It ranks right up there with food, water and shelter. One Warm Coat’s mission is “to provide free coats to children and adults in need while promoting volunteerism and environmental sustainability”.

One Warm Coat has a great 6 step plan for holding your own coat drive.

  1. Plan Your Drive
  2. Register Drive with One Warm Coat
  3. Promote & Launch your Drive
    • gently worn coats should be clean, with no holes or stains
    • new coats are always great
  4. Sort, Count and Report Donations
  5. Celebrate Success of Drive on Social Media
  6. Deliver Donations to a local One Warm Coat Partner

If you donate have time to hold a drive, consider donating a gently used coat. Some One Warm Coat partners are local retail clothing stores and they will give you a discount on new merchandise, when you donate a coat.

2. Volunteer at a Food Bank

Food Bank Volunteer

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”

– In Dr. King’s 1967 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Food banks and food pantries have many options for volunteers that want to help solve the food insecurity problem in our country. Feeding America has a nationwide network of food banks.

Click here to find a distribution center near you. Did you know that 51% of all food programs rely ENTIRELY on volunteers? Some typical volunteer tasks might include:

  • Sorting & Packing Food
  • Assist at mobile pantries, drive thru pantries and no-contact distributions
  • Deliver meals (check age requirements here, the driver might need to be 18 years old)
  • Help with Community Garden

Mobile pantries are often setup at various churches in the community. Here you will might help unload, set up and distribute food directly to those in need. Please check the age guidelines for the the food bank you choose. Certain ages might need to be accompanied by an adult. Also, remember to check out the attire guidelines. I know my local food bank requires closed-toe shoes. Just want to make sure when you arrive, you can definitely volunteer.

3. Visit a Local Cultural Center

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
– Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967.

This isn’t technically volunteering, however it might broaden your world view, which in turn my give you some ideas on how to make this world a better place. Visit a local cultural center that is different than your own.

4. Host a Beanie Baby Drive for Operation Gratitude

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
– From the “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.

Each year, Operation Gratitude sends hundreds of thousands of care packages to deployed troops. A beanie baby or similar small plush toy is included in each of these packages. As a result, these stuffed animals bring smiles to deployed troops and help build goodwill with children in communities of deployment.

Both new and gently used stuffed animals are accepted. The perfect size is a Beanie Baby or Webkinz.

Firstly, set a goal of how many you want to collect and see if you can reach that goal in two weeks. Afterwards, I would recommend asking school friends, parent co-workers and neighbors. My gut is you will definitely get some gently used ones. This is such a great way to get rid of extra clutter that we have around the house.

This idea has four great benefits:

  • Best part is that these stuffed animals go to another child
  • Helps our troops make the world a safer place
  • Prevents stuffed animals from ending up in a landfill
  • Gets rid of clutter in your home

Visit Operation Gratitude for more details, including shipping instructions.

5. Make Paracord Lanyards

MLK Day of Service - Make Paracord Lanyards

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Another volunteer option with Operation Gratitude is making paracord lanyards. It takes only 5 feet of paracord to make just one. 100 feet of paracord typically costs around $10 to $12, which will make 20 paracord lanyards. These lanyards are included in the care packages sent to deployed troops. A few of the uses of these lanyards are as follows:

  • Hang an IV bag from a tree
  • Secure nets to trees or vehicles
  • Create a harness to extract an injured person from a bad location
  • Sewing thread to repair gear
  • Make a sling or splint

Visit Operation Gratitude for more details on how to make these small things that can make a big impact.

6. Participate in an Ecochallenge

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This idea stemmed from the AmeriCorps MLK Day 2023 project ideas to promote environmental justice. The Campus Ecochallenge is a way to take measurable action on the top solutions to global warming. As a result, you will be able to see how the little changes you make in your life can have a lasting impact on our planet.

You might get a group of friends and family together and create your own team. Team captains can set the dates and lengths of their team’s participation. You can join an existing challenge or create a custom action for your team. If starting a team isn’t for you, no worries! You can join an existing team. Finally, some challenges are a one time action and others are daily. Action categories are as follows:

  • Waste
  • Food
  • Health
  • Energy
  • Transportation
  • Community
  • Nature
  • Water
  • Simplicity

I encourage you to check out the Campus Ecochallenge, it’s an interesting concept that might be just right for you.

7. Write Letters for Letters Against Isolation

MLK Day of Service - Write Letters

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Letters Against Isolation was started by Shreya and Saffron during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their mission is to “fight senior loneliness one letter at a time.” During the pandemic, they realized that many seniors were even more lonely without visitors and the ability to interact with others.

To get involved, you will need to submit your email address and they will send you further details. Typically, you are signing up to write letters every other week. You can send as many letters as you wish.

8. Tutor Other Students for Free

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tutoring is a great way to help your community and help younger students. If you are in high school or middle school, ask your counselor if your school has a program for students tutoring other students.

Another option to get started is to offer up your free tutoring on your neighborhood Nextdoor page. As a parent, I see posts from parents on Nextdoor looking for ways to help their kids in school. If you aren’t sure if your neighborhood has a Nextdoor page, ask one of your parents. If it doesn’t, then see the neighborhood as an online directory or website where you could post your tutoring services.

Just a note here that is probably obvious, make sure you are getting A’s in whatever subject you are offering to tutor. If you are a great history student but hate math, don’t offer to tutor in Algebra.

9. Work in a Community Garden

“The time is always right to do right.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many cities across the nation have community gardens. Furthermore, these gardens typically have raised beds that are maintained by volunteers. This might be a good choice if you are passionate about the environment.

In addition, this opportunity can help combat the problem of food insecurity in the community. Oftentimes, the fruits and vegetables that are harvested are donated to a food pantry. Gardners can usually keep part of the harvest as well.

Typically, you can adopt a plot or join a group that already has a garden plot. The time commitment might be a few hours a week if you are solely responsible for the spot. When you find a community garden, find out if you can adopt for one growing season or if a full year is required. Just make sure you have the time available.

If you don’t know how to grow fruits and vegetables, don’t worry. There are usually orientation classes, training classes and mentors.

Finally, the best way to find a community garden is just to search for “community garden near me”.

10. Visit MLK Day Website for More Ideas

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Strength to Love, 1963.

Last but not least, if the above ideas don’t resonate with you, check out the United States government’s website dedicated to the MLK Day of Service at Here you will find many different ways to honor Dr. King’s call to action for improving our communities.

If you want to learn more about MLK Day of Service, some great resources are:

This post is all about great ways for students to volunteer on our nation’s MLK Day of Service.

MLK Day of Service is the perfect day you to do something for your community. Choose to do something to support the effort that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. started so many years ago.

Check out these Related Posts!

virtual volunteer ideas for students in high school