Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Day Off, Day On: This year, MLK Day of Service focuses on environmental justice.

Looking at our calendars can be overwhelming. Work schedules and appointments fill up the little boxes as quickly as they are checked off.

But every so often, we come across a holiday, a day off from work or school. This month it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but, for thousands of people statewide, it’s no day off.

For more than 10 years, the Central Pennsylvania MLK Day of Service Committee has been providing families and groups with a way to invest in their communities for a “day on instead of a day off,” said Mike Walsh, co-founder of the committee.

This year, the theme is environmental justice, the year coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Service activities and informational booths will feature ways to care for the environment, while encouraging thought about the inequality in environmental protection that vulnerable populations face.

“How we treat our place affects how we treat each other,” said Chad Frey, a committee member.

Frey explained how, often, waste management sites or other pollution-producing plants are placed in communities of color—neighborhoods that don’t always have the option to voice opposition.

The education will hopefully cause people to think, “How can I lend my voice when people in the community are making decisions that may adversely impact my neighborhood?” Walsh said.

The main hub of activity will take place at Commonwealth Charter Academy in Harrisburg. Here, 300 to 500 volunteers will help pack food for Meals on Wheels, write letters to military personnel and pediatric patients at Penn State Medical Center and donate blood to the Central PA Blood Bank, said board member Eileen Jacobs.

In keeping with the theme, partners like the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection will provide activities such as building bluebird boxes and offering information on composting and planting in an urban setting.

“Even if you don’t have a backyard with soil, you can still grow in pots,” Walsh said.

There will also be a table for visitors to interact with and learn about cultures from around the world, as well as a number of minority-owned businesses to check out, Jacobs said.

“It’s been incredible to see people come together from all parts of the community,” Walsh said.

Service projects outside of CCA may involve volunteering with nonprofit community groups, such as Friends of Midtown, visiting a local nursing home or helping at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.

While the holiday may only come around once each year, Walsh sees this as inciting yearlong engagement.

“People have learned about organizations they didn’t know existed,” he said. “King Day is a start. It’s a significant way to engage people, and Dr. King’s message resonates with everyone.”

For Frey, the day is helping to further King’s dream of “the beloved community” right here in Harrisburg. It’s a small piece of a large task, but it is helping diversity flourish in a tangible way.

“We need to try to keep hammering away in our own little pockets,” he said. “I’m hopeful for this year.”

The Central Pennsylvania MLK Day of Service is on Jan. 20. Activities at Commonwealth Charter Academy, 1 Innovation Way, Harrisburg, run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information about all projects, visit

Businesses on the 1000-block of N. 3rd St. are holding a community drive for those in need on Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Pastorante, Urban Churn, Keystone Diner, Gifted Hands barber shop, etc., donated and are giving out food, blankets, hot chocolate, socks. Urban Churn at 1004 N. 3rd St. will be serving out soup, hot chocolate, misc food items. Gifted Hands Barber Studio at 1008 N. 3rd St. will be giving out the blankets, socks and $10 haircuts.


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