Thanksgiving, on one hand, turns people inward, reflecting on gratitude for all they have in relationships and material blessings; but on the other hand, in recognizing the abundance of their resources, many opportunities arise to touch the lives of others with compassion. Giving back or passing it forward has become an important part of many family’s holiday traditions. Volunteer opportunities abound in communities across the country, at community Thanksgiving dinners for the less fortunate, in food collection and delivery to families who may not otherwise have a Thanksgiving to inviting people who are alone during the holidays into another family’s home to share the festivities. The heart of service displayed in such acts of kindness is Thanksgiving at its best.
Some charitable organizations are finding their Thanksgiving events more than adequately staffed by volunteers, so great is the turnout for compassionate service opportunities. Kealie Williams of Hands On Nashville urges people who find their services are not needed on Thanksgiving to support the organizations and families in need through the purchase of needed items at Black Friday sales. Donations can be as valuable as service in helping aid agencies touching the lives of those they serve as the need can outstrip the available resources of non-profit organizations.
Taking in an individual or family that has nowhere else to go for Thanksgiving is another way to spread the holiday spirit. A couple in Cleveland responded a local news station’s story of a lonely homeless man’s wish to spend Thanksgiving with a family, working through the Union Mission to contact him with the offer. Neal Shytles will spend the day in the home of Cory and Ashley McLemore for lunch and Thanksgiving dinner, which Neal considers a double blessing. He is very grateful for the McLemores hospitality, which the Union Mission says is inspiring people around the nation to remember the forgotten people. Neal’s story puts a human face on the homeless, motivating people to open their hearts and homes to the needy.
Some families are not lacking in people with whom to spend Thanksgiving, only the financial means to provide the festive meal. Donating groceries and time to packing and delivering food boxes to these families touches their lives with compassion, allowing them to celebrate without straining their already tight budgets. In Memphis, Kroger donated 750 bags of all the trimmings to families at Raleigh-Egypt High School. The student gets the satisfaction of taking home a bag of food to help feed the family, which spokesperson Tereasa Dickerson says is “very empowering” to a young person. Parents are very grateful for the provisions that save them on their holiday expenses. Chasity Balfour, a Raleigh-Egypt High School parent, hopes that the compassion and generosity will give her kids a better perspective on the fact that they have a caring community looking out for them.
Many service organizations, churches and aid agencies hold community Thanksgiving dinners, giving low-income individuals and families a place to enjoy the holiday with a hot meal. One such event is feeding dozens of Pennsylvania Head Start families in Monroe County courtesy of the congregation of a local church. The people of Community Church have committed to remaining active in touching lives their community. In the spirit of that decision, through the congregation’s donations, they packaged enough food for 25 Head Start families plus 175 other families around the county. Families who volunteer together, including the children in the service opportunity, instill the heart of service and compassion in their young minds and hearts. Tim Lee of Pocono Services for Families and Children points out that the holiday season can be stressful for low-income families as the colder weather takes more of their money to stay warm and attend to weather-related health issues. Therefore, the helping hand alleviates some of that stress and allows them to take a break from the stark reality of their situation and just enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.
Opinion by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
16 WNEP News: Thanksgiving Donations
16 WNEP News: Thanksgiving Dinner Distribution
Image courtesy of Wesley Fryer – Flickr License