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The Great Give Back: Paying It Forward for MLK Day

The Sleep Club Editors

Every year around this time we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Commemorating the civil rights leader’s birthday and his goals of equality for and tolerance of all has been official as of 1983. Since that time, it has morphed not into a day “off” but a day “on,” keeping in line with Dr. King’s belief in and encouragement for giving back to others. The MLK Day of Service takes place the 3rd Monday in January and as we kick off this new year, we thought we’d take a look at some easy ways to pay it forward not just this coming week, but every day.


“...‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ … The good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”


While the world is opening up, we are still asked to be smart about how we engage and interact with others. It creates a unique situation when wanting to give back, and while sending money to various organizations around the world is valuable and a great way to show your care for others without putting yourself at a health risk, many of us find that being able to be personally involved with that act of giving, the ability to see its impact first hand, makes us want to do it more often. This is why one of the ways many are dipping their toes back into the water of paying it forward is to start closer to home in a controlled way. This ranges from literally doing something for close family and friends in need to helping your neighbors and supporting local mom and pop businesses that are barely hanging on during what has been a long, unsteady time. 

Ideas that have risen to the top are packing individual lunches or meals and hygiene bundles for the homeless, the elderly, and at risk neighbors. A sandwich, piece of fruit, bottle of water, and some self-care staples such as toothpaste, lotion, soap, and feminine products go a long way to making someone in need feel cared for and valuable. Adding a kind note with it brings a grateful smile and you can either hand these out personally to those in need or get involved with an organization to handle it for you. 

Another thought is to frequent one of your local small businesses and pay it forward by purchasing someone’s order, pay for their groceries, or give your server or the person assisting you either a larger gratuity than normal or the gift of your patience and gratitude. Doing this not only boosts sales for the establishment, but helps other patrons and may encourage them to carry on this gift of giving.


“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


The act of giving is not the domain of anyone other than those with an open heart and willingness to do for others. That’s it. Paying it forward is an open field and one that is always ripe for more to play on at any given time. Not only that, but what we do for others is also open and broad. It’s ours for the giving.

A child’s lemonade stand created to send money to families hit by a natural disaster? That’s an act of giving.

Engaging in a physical activity to raise funds and awareness for research and to find a cure for any one of a myriad of diseases? That’s an act of giving.

Buying a cheeseburger or a sandwich for the homeless person outside of your favorite burger or sandwich joint? That’s an act of giving.

Putting gas in the car of the stranded motorist who just wants to get home? That’s an act of giving.

And opening the door for or giving up your seat for someone? Yep. That is an act of giving.

What, how and the amount we give to others is not what matters. It is the doing and showing someone else we care without agenda or expectation of anything in return but with genuine and honest intent that does. From the smallest gesture of saying, “Good morning,” to someone you don’t know to the grandest donation of your time and money to an event or charity organization, that giving back makes more of a difference than we ourselves, fully realize, and maybe — just maybe — in doing so it prompts others to pay it forward.

Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” The MLK Day of Service is just one day out of the year. Every day is an opportunity to show your care, give back in whatever way works best for you, and to be a part of something that is greater than our individual selves, but yet still represents all of us:


Night Sky Night Sky