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United Way Blog

Honoring Dr. King with A Day of Service

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963 letter from the Birmingham, Alabama jail. Two years later in a speech he added, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”

What better way then, to honor Dr. King’s legacy, than by volunteering to serve others and embracing the mutuality he described. On Dr. King’s birthday, and any day, we can heed the call to Live United, to help people everywhere attain the fundamental building blocks of a good life: a quality education, a well-paying job and good health.

In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday as a national day of service. By leading efforts to serve in communities of all sizes across the country, United Way offers a myriad of opportunities to observe this federal holiday as a “day on, not a day off.” It’s a chance to help others “be who they ought to be” and do the same for ourselves. For example, some of the 2,800 United Way of King County Seattle, Washington volunteers will visit homeless shelters, tent encampments, and people living on the streets to provide “Bags of Hope” that include personal hygiene items. Volunteers aren’t simply dropping off these essentials, but taking the time to connect with people, hear their stories and direct them to resources as necessary.

United Way of Williamson County, Round Rock, Texas is aiming to mobilize 200 volunteers on Monday to build teaching gardens at schools, sort donations at a food pantry’s thrift store, clear hiking trails and more. And in the City of Brotherly Love, the 23rd annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service is attracting more than 150,000 volunteers who’ll serve in some 1,800 projects. United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey is a sponsor of this annual day of volunteering and will host projects for volunteers to pack kid-friendly recipe books, utensils, and more in support of the day’s overall theme, Food Justice.

Dr. King also said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” The MLK Day of Service moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a connected community where we each reach our full potential and give of ourselves to advance the common good. United Way invites you to Live United on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and every day. To find volunteer events in your community, visit