For most families, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything you’ve been given, and be grateful for all that you have.
This year may be tough for many of us; with the stock market in freefall, millions of Americans are losing money from their retirement accounts and stock portfolios, and crashing home values mean that many of us owe more on our houses than they’re even worth. But no matter how bad things are looking for you this year, there’s always someone who has it worse. So this year, take the time to give thanks for all that’s good in your own life—and to give to others who may not share the same luxuries. Here are ten ways to help the less fortunate this Thanksgiving.
1. Donate to a nonprofit that helps the hungry.
Millions of people can’t afford the food they need to survive, both in the United States and throughout the world. Make a contribution to an organization that will provide food and aid to hungry families, such as the internationally-based Friends of the World Food Program; Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, which works on the national level to help America’s hungry. Or check out your local food bank, which will ensure that the people in your own neighborhood have enough to eat on Thanksgiving day—and every other day of the year. To learn about more great hunger-related organizations you can help, check out our Razoo Giving Guide to World Hunger.
2. Donate a Thanksgiving basket.
Many organizations collect turkeys and all the trimmings to distribute to local families in need. When you do your Turkey Day shopping, pick up extras of everything, and donate them to a local organization like Fairfax, Virginia’s Food for Others, or Los Angeles’ annual Gobble Gobble Give event, which feeds hundreds of homeless people around Echo Park. You can also volunteer to help assemble and deliver the baskets—just check in advance to find out what your local organization needs.
3. Hold a food drive.
Get together with your family, friends, and members of your community to host a food drive, collecting canned goods for your local shelter or food bank. With permission, set up your food drive at your workplace or church, or just outside of the local supermarket. To reach even more people, send out a group email to solicit financial donations for the cause.
4. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
By helping out at a local soup kitchen, you can give a wonderful holiday to the people who need it most. Call the soup kitchen several weeks in advance to let them know that you’d like to contribute, and offer to do whatever they need help with. Serving food isn’t the only way to help—you may also be enlisted to help pick up donations, prepare food, or clean up after the meal.
5. Send a phone card or care package to a soldier.
Soldiers stationed overseas don’t have the opportunity to come home and spend Thanksgiving with their families, so it’s a tough time of year for them. Help a homesick soldier celebrate the holiday by shipping a care package through a group like Any Soldier or Treats For Troops. If you want to really make it a day to remember, sponsor a phone call home by donating money or an old cell phone through the Cell Phones for Soldiers program.
6. Hold a Thanksgiving charity bake sale.
Not everyone’s a master pie-maker—so use your own culinary skills for good by baking up a few dozen extra pumpkin pies and other assorted goodies to sell in advance of the big day. Donate the proceeds to an organization like Feeding America, which will ensure that the less fortunate will have enough to eat on Thanksgiving and beyond.
7. Donate to a charity that helps the homeless.
While you may be tempted to give a few dollars to the homeless people you see on the streets, your money will make more of a difference when you contribute to an organization dedicated to providing help for those without shelter. Give to a large charity like the National Organization of Homeless Veterans, or a smaller regional group, like your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
8. Deliver Thanksgiving dinners to housebound people.
Call your local Meals on Wheels group and offer to drop off turkey dinners to elderly and sick people around your neighborhood. Your visit will make the holiday a meaningful and special occasion to remember.
9. Visit hospital patients.
For sick patients who have no families nearby to visit them, Thanksgiving can be a sad and lonely day. Call your local hospital to find out if there are any patients who’d like some company on the holiday. Patients aren’t permitted to eat non-hospital food, so bring flowers or a small gift instead.
10. Take part in a charity Turkey Trot or 5K run.
Thanksgiving’s generally a time when people pack on the pounds—but joining in a charity run can help you keep fit and contribute to a good cause all at once. Many organizations in cities and towns all over America host Thanksgiving Day runs or “Turkey Trots,” typically donating all proceeds to food banks or other local charities. Find your local race and start taking donation pledges for the big day. When the race is over, you’ll know you’ve earned that dinner. Or, if you’re not up to the challenge of running, volunteer to register runners or to pass out refreshments.