Better World

5 simple acts of service the whole family can do together

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Each year on the third Monday of January, we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. — pioneering activist of the civil rights movement. King worked tirelessly to promote equality for Black Americans by speaking out against injustices like segregation and discrimination.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only U.S. federal holiday that is also designated by Congress as a national day of service. This means that many folks honor King’s memory by volunteering in their communities or performing acts of service and kindness for those around them.

Kids can get in on this special day too. From small gestures of kindness to large service projects in the community, there are all kinds of ways that kids can observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Here are some examples of kid-friendly acts of service that the whole family can do together:

1. Community clean-up

Take a trash bag with you on a walk around the block or a local public community space like a park or playground, and pick up whatever trash you find. Be sure to wear gloves and instruct kids to only pick up paper, plastic, or cardboard trash to avoid hazardous objects. 

2. Declutter and donate

Chances are there are some things lying around the house that you and your kids aren’t using. Have the kids gather up things like toys they don’t play with or clothes they don’t wear anymore. You can also go through your kitchen together and gather any unopened, non-perishable food you don’t need. Then take your donations to a local shelter, food bank, or toy drive. Here are some examples of household items you might contribute:

  • Clothes
  • Books
  • Non-perishable food
  • Toys
  • Art supplies
  • Clean blankets and bedding
  • Unopened toiletries
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bottled water

3. Visit an assisted living facility or nursing home

Visits from children can bring joy and enrichment to seniors in assisted living facilities or nursing homes. You might have them make some treats or handmade greeting cards to hand out. Having your child read to a senior can also help them improve their reading skills!

4. Start a mini-business

Organize a garage sale, bake sale, or lemonade stand as a family, and donate the profits to a cause of your choice. Get the kids in on coming up with a business idea! They might have some special skills or talents they want to put to use. For example, they could sell arts and crafts they enjoy making, or sell a helpful service like gardening or dog-walking. Get the whole family together when it’s time to donate the profits, so they can see how much of a difference they made!

5. Visit a fire station

Contact your local fire station and ask if they take visits from kids — most do! You can also ask what volunteer opportunities they might have for children around the firehouse. Your family might be able to help with cleaning or light maintenance, and what kid wouldn’t want to help clean a fire truck! You can also bring treats or a meal for the firefighters with you when you arrive.

More ways to volunteer

There are lots of local organizations that can always use volunteers of all ages, so don’t hesitate to reach out to any nonprofits or mutual aid groups about their family volunteer opportunities. There are also national databases where you can search for family-friendly acts of service in your area. Here are a few to get you started:

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.