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Martin Luther King Jr. urged citizens to roll up their sleeves and work for justice every day. We invite you to volunteer beyond MLK Day.

Volunteers are the hands of Blanchet House’s mission to bring direct relief to people in need. Blanchet House is unique in that it offers a hands-on way to learn about the complexities of homelessness while serving others. In my role, I’m fortunate to meet so many people who want to help our neighbors in need and are willing to get involved. These caring individuals work without the expectation of compensation, looking to heal society’s wounds.

Many people are motivated to volunteer with us on a national holiday like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. MLK Day celebrates a man who dedicated his life to service and fighting injustice. It’s also the only federally designated Day of Service holiday meant to encourage Americans to take action to improve their communities. It’s a day that sparks more people than usual to sign up for a volunteer shift during Blanchet House’s meal services. We are always grateful to host volunteers who want to honor King’s legacy by serving in our cafe. But this year, I think we can all go a step further and rethink this Day of Service holiday.

Martin Luther King Jr marching in color

Ralph Abernathy, James Forman, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Douglas, and John Lewis. King led the five-day, 54-mile march for voting rights in 1965, from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. Photo by Steve Shapiro.

Volunteers Are Needed Everyday

Instead of picking a popular day to volunteer when a swell of helping hands vie for a few shifts, we could start using MLK Jr. Day as a time to reflect on our service. This can be the day that we make a commitment to integrating more service into our lives all year and choose a less popular day to serve. A day when the need for hands is much higher.

This year, MLK Day coincides with a winter storm across the Pacific Northwest that will create additional challenges for the vulnerable citizens of Portland. We are grateful to all who will brave the elements to serve in our cafe when other services shutter. But winter emergencies have struck many times over the years, and Blanchet House has been a consistent beacon no matter when the snow and ice hit. When times are most dire, our services are needed most.

If we seek change or hope to alleviate suffering, we must understand that our help is needed throughout the year. Our community’s challenges are just as pressing on non-holidays. The needs of the people we serve on MLK Day are no different than those on Friday.

Your first day of service is the first step of a life-long journey. I’ve seen many people begin their journey here at Blanchet House, and they inspire me to continue the work that I do. We are honored to serve with you in rain or shine, snow or smoke, pandemics, and beyond. We invite you to join us on your service journey and to make us a part of your plans to serve this year.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofits and the heart of homeless services in this city. There are many ways to get involved at Blanchet House like making care kits or sack lunches from home, hosting a clothing drive, signing up to volunteer, or donating money. Whatever way you choose to serve will benefit your neighbors in need.

By Jon Seibert, Director of Programs



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