MLK Day a day to serve

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is supposed to be a day of service, when people get out and volunteer in the spirit of the man whose life’s work was addressing inequities in class, income and race.

But, during this Great Recession, the need in and around metro Atlanta far exceeds what can be done in a day or even a week.

Here we spotlight a few organizations that need help year round. We’re not talking about giving hours every week or sending a fat check every month. We’re talking dropping off a can of food here, scanning someone’s resume there, and donating a book every now and then. These are small things that might help chip away at some of the metro area’s greatest needs.

Dress for Success Atlanta

Its mission: Most people know someone who got laid off last year or lost their job to a downsizing. Dress for Success Atlanta helps unemployed women get appropriate clothing and interview skills as they search for work. Last year, it served about 160 women per month. “You see the need on a daily basis, from the person who calls who just got out of jail and needs something to wear for a job interview to someone who just got laid off from her job of 15 years and hasn’t had to interview since 1985,” said Kristina Cates, director of operations for the organization.

What you can do: Surprisingly, it's not clothes, Cates said. The nonprofit gets 4,000 pieces of clothing donated per month but it only keeps a quarter of that. What's needed are volunteers who can help people draft resumes and practice interviewing skills, or volunteers who can dispense job-hunting advice. But the volunteers are needed on weekdays during daytime hours rather than on the weekends or in the evening (

Others with a similar mission: M.E.N.S. Wear Inc.,; Center for Working Families,

Sheltering Arms of Atlanta

Its mission: It would seem a simple goal, putting a new book each month in the hands of the 2,300 children Sheltering Arms serves. But there are times that the agency, which operates an early childhood education program, struggles to meet the goal. The organization, which operates centers in seven metro Atlanta counties, serves kids from infants to second-graders. Eighty percent of those kids are from low-income homes, and 60 percent of them come from single-parent homes. For every child the agency serves, two more are on a waiting list to be admitted. For some of the children, the one book they get from Sheltering Arms ( is the only one they get for the month.

What you can do: Each child receives a new book every month. So giving one new book per month (or more) could encourage reading skills.

Others with a literacy mission: (for adults) Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta,; Literacy Action Inc.,

Atlanta Community Food Bank

Its mission: As the recession deepened last year, area food pantries reported a surge in demand for their services. The main supplier for hundreds of metro Atlanta food pantries and aid agencies is the Atlanta Community Food Bank. But even that organization runs low on certain items. “Nothing is too small for someone to donate,” said Angie Clawson, spokeswoman for the food bank. “Think about where we are in the economy and how many people are still out of work in Atlanta. That one can of tuna you donate might feed a family for an evening.”

What you can do: Organize a mini food drive in your neighborhood, asking a handful of neighbors if they can donate a jar of peanut butter, box of pasta or whatever they can spare that meets the food bank's donation guidelines ( For the gardeners out there, when you plant your garden this spring, plant a row for the food bank and share that harvest.

Others with a similar mission: The Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers,; The Sullivan Center,