Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. And for some, those thanks come in the form of volunteerism and other acts of goodwill. But let’s say you really, really want to express your thanks — but just not in the form of an eight-hour day scooping mashed potatoes on the actual holiday.
Well, there are plenty of other ways to give. (And don’t feel guilty for choosing another route.) In fact, organizations dedicated to feeding the needy quite often have to turn away volunteers because there is an overabundance of help on Thanksgiving Day. (Note: This happened to me personally; I once signed up to volunteer to distribute food for a nonprofit and was sent home due to the overwhelming response for service.)
So, if you want to do something good for the holidays without overwhelming yourself and interfering with your own busy holiday enjoyment, here are a few suggestions. While they don’t require much of your time, money, or energy, many of these opportunities still allow you to spread cheer and goodwill to those who need it most.
1. Volunteer on non-peak times
Contact your local shelter or soup kitchen to find out when your volunteer efforts may be needed most. The days of preparation leading up to Thanksgiving may take just as much — if not more — effort than the actual holiday.
These charities are likely to fill up their holiday roster with volunteers. So, yes, an extra hand could lighten the workload on a hectic Thanksgiving Day, however your efforts could be better optimized on a day when staff and volunteers are really stretched thin.
2. Start a collection with dinner guests
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you likely won’t have much time outside of your hosting/cooking duties to put in some volunteer hours. So instead, use this as an opportunity to call upon your guests to help out with your act of charity.
Tell each attending guest to donate a winter coat, a few dollars, a couple of canned goods, or some toiletries. Then, round up their donations and deliver them to your charity of choice the next day.
3. Give thanks with a card, letter, or care package
Unfortunately, some hospital staff, police officers, and first responders don’t have the luxury of being home with their families for the holiday as they work the holiday to keep us safe. Show them your gratitude by dropping off cards or care packages of appreciation.
Likewise, members of the armed forces often can’t get home to be with their families for holidays. While it may be too late to write them for the upcoming holidays, you can write them notes of appreciation nonetheless.
You can even facilitate this activity by handing out pens and stationary as guests arrive for your Thanksgiving festivities. Encourage each guest to write a thank-you note and send your letters through organizations like Operation Gratitude, which will then mail your letters to deployed soldiers.
4. Dine out for a cause
Not terribly excited about cooking for the holiday? Well, you can kill two birds with one stone by supporting a benefit dinner. Some local restaurants, private and civic clubs, religious groups, and charities host special Thanksgiving dinners to raise money for certain causes.
Some may charge per plate (with proceeds going to a designated charity) while others might simply ask for a donation. Check your local listings for benefit dinners in your areas.
5. Make a run for it
Okay, this may not be the simple, low-stress goodwill act that I promised, but taking part in a holiday-themed run it could be worth your while — plus an opportunity to pre-burn some of those Thanksgiving Day calories.
Many cities offer Thanksgiving Day morning road races, where the entry fees benefit local charities, such as shelters and hospitals. Active.com is a great resource to find races in your hometown.
6. Donate to a food pantry
As you shop for your Thanksgiving dinner, purchase some extra goods to donate to your local food bank. Visit Feeding America to find a food bank near you. Also, note: Many colleges also have campus food pantries to help support their students in need.
7. Invite over a single friend, neighbor, or coworker
Lastly, don’t forget about the people closest to us. Sometimes, we just assume a solo neighbor or co-worker would have no interest in coming to your family Thanksgiving dinner and hearing your mom spill the deets about your embarrassing childhood tales. But you’d be surprised.
While someone might outwardly downplay their interest, as the holiday draws closer, the sense of isolation can grow and the appeal of an invitation grows. The simple gesture could bring more joy than you could ever imagine.
That said, if you do invite them into the lion’s den (a.k.a. your family’s dinner), pledge to be a buffer between them and your tipsy Aunt Sue. Nobody should be left alone with Aunt Sue.
Nina Reeder is a journalist and media manager, who has contributed to outlets such as Ebony, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, and more. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie, but also has passions for health/wellness (which doesn’t always work out well). You can follow her on Instagram here.
Top image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou (This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)