Mayor Kenney is going to put together some bookshelves - by hand.

And donors are going to fill them with new books.

Then those book nooks will be distributed to school students, to help support the Free Library's "Read by 4th" literacy initiative and the city's new prekindergarten education effort.

The project will be a centerpiece of the Philadelphia region's 22nd annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, which this year will focus on the late civil rights leader's work for justice in education, organizers said Wednesday.

An estimated 145,000 volunteers are expected to participate in King Day activities Jan. 16, billed by organizers as the nation's largest celebration and recognition of King's work and life.

Signature events will take place at Girard College, the site of a news conference Wednesday that featured a children's choir, giveaway T-shirts, and hopes for a lasting impact.

"Some of the message coming out of the presidential campaign is 'What are you doing to do for me?' when really we should be asking what we can do for our country, Kennedy-esque, Obama-esque," said Todd Bernstein, founder and director of the local King Day of Service. He called the day "a time when we can bring together people who do not necessarily see eye to eye."

For instance, years ago at a King Day school-cleaning project, Bernstein recalled, he assigned the city school superintendent and the head of the teachers' union to clean the same bathroom stall.

The national King Day of Service was created in 1994 through federal legislation authored by former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford and Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), both of whom worked with King in the 1960s civil rights movement.

At Wednesday's announcement, a surprised Mary Strasser, acting director of the city's prekindergarten initiative, was presented with the 19th annual Harris Wofford Active Citizenship Award.

The initiative will gain from the book-nook project, which includes shelves donated by Ikea and 18,000 new books given by Scholastic Press.

"We want to make sure the pre-K program gets off to a great start," Bernstein said.

215-854-4906@JeffGammage