COVID Friendly Ways to Celebrate MLK Day Of Service

Who said the spirit of giving has to end with the holidays? We get another chance on the third Monday of January with Martin Luther King Day. But unlike some national holidays, it’s meant to be a day on, not a day off. It’s a chance to reflect on this civil rights icon and take action to continue what he started.

For small businesses, it’s a great opportunity for community outreach, especially to underserved groups. While this year’s celebration needs to observe social distancing guidelines, there are still ways your business can mark the day. Here are some COVID-friendly ideas to celebrate MLK Day.

Sponsor Distance Learning With Local Schools

Many school systems are looking to provide their students with meaningful distance learning activities. Businesses can help by taking advantage of sponsorship opportunities. Here are a few of these:

  • Virtual speaker – Make arrangements for a local speaker to video conference with students. It might be a local historian, community leader or artist. Or profile a Black-owned business owner who can speak to their own challenges and achievements.
  • Hot spots – Facilitate hot spots in areas with limited Wi-Fi. That makes it easier for students to stay connected to their schools so they don’t fall behind. Perhaps you can open up a spot in your parking lot or partner with a neighborhood church for space on their grounds.
  • Writing contest – Sponsor a contest where students express what community service means to them. It might take the form of an essay, poem, drawing or short video. Have teachers or community leaders judge the winners and you provide the prizes. Post the winning entries on your social media channels.  

Partner With Black-Owned Businesses

The pandemic has created significant challenges for small businesses. That’s particularly true of Black-owned businesses. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports 41% of Black-owned businesses (440,000 enterprises) have been shuttered by COVID-19. That’s compared to 17% of white-owned businesses.

Consider ways to partner with active Black-owned businesses in ways that mutually benefit both. For example:

  • Supply chain – When evaluating your supply chain, widen your competitive search to include Black-owned suppliers. The website Support Black Owned (SBO) lets you search by state, category or keyword to locate businesses in your area.
  • Complementary offers – Look for Black-owned businesses that offer products or services that complement what you offer. Talk about offering package deals to customers that may crossover to both businesses. For example, a bookstore might partner with a wine store to offer a “merlot and mystery” special where customers purchase both items for a reduced price.
  • Cross promotions – Develop a joint social media campaign where you give away sample products from two different businesses. Both businesses get to introduce their products to new customers.  This works best when there is some crossover between target markets. Here’s an example from Organic Bath Company.

Organize Volunteer Opportunities

Non-profits that target underserved populations, including minorities, are especially in need during the pandemic. By organizing volunteer opportunities with these organizations, your business embraces the service emphasis of MLK Day. You can offer these options to employees, customers, and suppliers. They will appreciate the leg work you provided to set it up.

One of these organizations is your local food bank. The NCBI, a division of the National Institutes of Health, reports household food insecurity is disproportionately high among racial/ethnic minority groups, especially during the COVID pandemic.

The Feeding America website provides a great resource to set up your project. The site helps you find a local food bank and learn what opportunities are available. That includes a number of COVID-safe activities like sorting and packing, drive-through distribution or working from home to fundraise or spread awareness.

Martin Luther King Day is an opportunity for your business to honor a civil rights leader and embrace community service. Consider these ideas for COVID-safe activities and extend the season of giving in your town.