Thanksgiving is a time of plenty, and of appreciation. It’s a holiday in which we’ll get together with friends and family to celebrate the bounty of the autumn harvest, to share food and drink, and spend time with people we love. Those of us whose celebrations will consist of ample food and a warm place in which to eat it are among the very privileged; there are millions who won’t be so fortunate, unless we reach out and offer a helping hand. This year, please consider helping others in need via one of the methods mentioned below.
Organize a Food Drive
Put the call out to friends, family, and neighbors that you’re collecting non-perishable goods for a local food bank, and ask a couple of them to help you deliver the bounty to a nearby drop-off point. Many fire stations, libraries, and other community hubs have collection bins around this time of year, but a quick Google search or scan through the Feeding America website should provide you with several different options.
Remember that the food being donated will be eaten by those in need, ranging from small children to the elderly, and everyone in between. Although donating the items you like the least (i.e. the canned goods at the back of your cupboard that you only turn to when all else is gone) might be tempting, it’s important to think about what you would wish to eat if you were hungry during the holidays. Canned protein (beans, tuna), jars of peanut butter, powdered milk, and soup/stew are always in demand, but holiday-related items such as cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing mix, and cans of pudding will also be appreciated beyond measure.
Invite a Neighbor to Dinner
There aren’t too many people who are very close friends with their neighbors, these days. There was once a time when people knew everyone on their street, but in this era of smartphones, internet access, Netflix, and insular lifestyles, the closest we might get to interacting with those who live around us might be a friendly wave while walking down the street, or a quick chat while taking out the garbage. Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to get to know those around us, and to extend a friendly hand to a neighbor who might be lonely during the holidays.
Elderly neighbors, single parents, college students far from home, and newcomers to the country are just a few examples of the folks who might really appreciate the invitation to dinner. They’ll undoubtedly have great stories to tell (and recipes to share), and you might end up with an incredible new friend.
Choose a Charity to Donate To
This could be a solitary choice, or one that’s decided upon by you and your partner. It could even be a group decision with the entire family, or the herd of friends you’ll be celebrating with this year. From farm sanctuaries to human rights organizations, there are literally thousands of charities that could benefit from your support, and even a small amount can make a difference.
If you don’t already have an organization in mind that you’d like to donate to you can visit Just Give to choose a charity that’s best for you.
Collect Warm Clothes from Dinner Guests
It’s likely that all of us have some warm clothes that we don’t wear very often, but might be put to very good use by others in need. If you’re getting together with a group of people this Thanksgiving, consider asking each one to bring along a gently used item of warm clothing to donate to a local charity. Sweaters, hats, scarves, and mittens are all appreciated by those who might not be able to afford their own, and can make a world of difference in another person’s world.
Keep in mind that it’s not just homeless adults that benefit from donations of warm clothing: it’s estimated that there are over 1.6 million homeless children in America today, and an even larger number have parents on a fixed income, and might not have warm clothes that fit. Many women’s shelters also house small children and babies, so if your own kids have outgrown their flannel PJs, coats, etc., there are certainly many children who’d appreciate receiving them.
You can drop off your donations at many different collection points around the country, as well as local shelters and churches.
Share Your Bounty with Animal Friends
Lunch and dinner parties inevitably end up with leftovers and kitchen scraps, many of which would be really appreciated by animal friends. Call up local animal shelters and sanctuaries to find out what kind of donations they’d accept: many are very grateful to receive items such as carrot tops, lettuces and other fresh greens, as well as fruits and vegetables so they can share them with the many animals they care for.
Sharing your scraps and leftovers can help local animal buddies too! Leftover bread, buns, and apple cores will be seriously appreciated by hungry squirrels and birds at parks nearby, and you can use hollowed-out citrus rinds or squash halves as bird feeders: just pack them with nut butter, seeds, and crumbs, and hang them in trees for the locals to enjoy.
Help Out at a Food Bank or Soup Kitchen
If you’d rather be out and about and actively helpful this Thanksgiving, there are hundreds of food banks and community kitchens that could use an extra hand to help the hungry. More people use these food resources over the autumn and winter months than at any other time of year, and a nourishing, hot meal can make a huge difference in a person’s day, especially if it’s served with a sincere smile.
A lot of people are surprised to discover that so many different people need to visit food banks and charitable kitchens on occasion; it’s not just the homeless folks you’d normally see panhandling on the street. Students, young families, pensioners, struggling single parents, and under-employed people who might be unable to make ends meet between paychecks need a bit of extra help now and then, and many feel very embarrassed and low when they find themselves at a soup kitchen so they can eat something that day. If you can be there for them, with warmth, reassurance, empathy, and a kind word, you will make a difference in their world. That’s a promise.
These are just a few ways that you can reach out and help others this season. There are countless opportunities for volunteering, donating, and sharing, in ways that appeal to a broad range of people. If you have a favorite way to give forward to your own community, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.
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