Thanksgiving Holiday Is Reminder to Americans to Help Others
Many see holiday as good time to donate, volunteer, help feed the needy
Washington — Most Americans look forward to sharing a Thanksgiving Day meal with family and friends, but many also make a special effort to volunteer at shelters, churches, food banks and other charitable organizations. Many grocery stores and individuals contribute turkeys, potatoes, pumpkin pie and other traditional Thanksgiving items to food banks and soup kitchens, and volunteers spend the day cooking the meal and serving hundreds of people.
“As we gather once again among loved ones, let us also reach out to our neighbors and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand,” President Obama said in his Thanksgiving proclamation.
In 2008, then President-elect Obama and his family set an example by helping distribute food at a church in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, and in a radio message he thanked those people across America who had “pitched in time and resources to give a lift to their neighbors in need. It is this spirit that binds us together as one American family — the belief that we rise and fall as one people.”
Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, generally centers on a dinner of roast turkey, and thus food drives across the country focus on that main ingredient of the Thanksgiving feast.
Each year in Santa Monica, California, for example, people donate uncooked turkeys or volunteer their ovens to roast a turkey the night before Thanksgiving. In 2008, some 300 turkeys were transformed into more than 2,100 hot meals for the needy and distributed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
Operation Turkey in Austin, Texas, prepares and distributes Thanksgiving meals and clothing each year with the help of more than a thousand volunteers. Sixteen other cities, half of them in Texas, also have Operation Turkey drives.
DONATING, VOLUNTEERING AND HAVING FUN
Some groups try to make donating fun. In Las Vegas, the Three Square food bank and Wranglers hockey team challenged fans to fill a tractor trailer moving van with donated food, and anyone who brought at least five items earned free tickets to that night’s hockey game. The food bank asked for volunteers to help collect the food at the door, plus one special volunteer to wear a turkey costume during the event.
In St. Mary’s County, Maryland, the local government sponsors a charity golf day on Thanksgiving. Golfers donate bags of nonperishable food and household items for a local food bank. In 2008, more than 2,000 items were collected.
Social media sites are another way to make donating easy and fun. For example, the social networking site SocialVibe offers a “Thanksgiving Feast” application for the Facebook Web site that lets people ask their friends to participate in a game; for each point earned in the game, food is donated to needy people in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme.
A GROWING NEED
Peggy Grimes, executive director of the Montana Food Bank Network in Missoula, Montana, which provides food to nearly 200 charitable agencies throughout the state, says the need for food donations during the holiday season — and in fact, all year — is greater than ever. In 2008, the food bank distributed about 4 million pounds of food, but “we’ll probably hit 8 million pounds this year,” she said.
The Montana Food Bank Network is a partner of Feeding America (formerly called America’s Second Harvest), the nation’s largest charitable domestic hunger relief organization.
Each day, about 20 to 25 volunteers work for the Montana food bank, sorting cans and boxes of food, repackaging bulk items such as cereal, and boxing up orders. College students and senior citizens often like to come during the day, Grimes said, while church groups and other individuals come in after work. “We’re finding that more families want their children to be involved, and they come in the evening — so we’ve had evenings and weekends busy for about the last six months.”
People who want to actually serve meals or distribute food baskets are directed to charitable groups that do that, Grimes said. For a soup kitchen that is serving a big meal at Thanksgiving, many volunteers are needed, she said.
A special program called Hunters for the Hungry lets hunters donate deer, elk, moose and other game they kill. It is taken to the inmate-operated food processing facility at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, cut up and frozen, Grimes said. The food bank distributes the meat where it is needed.
“We are seeing so many more families coming in” to the food bank because of job losses due to the economic recession, Grimes said. “When we have difficult financial times across the country, people begin to circle the wagons and say ‘What’s the most important thing for us to support: making sure people have a home and have food on their table.’”
“So people are stepping up, and they’re really generous to us and help get the job done. If they weren’t, we just wouldn’t be able to get the food out to this many people.”