Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities almost always revolve around the local food bank, and for good reason. No one should be alone or hungry on a day when so many are enveloped in togetherness and great food. But there are many more ways to learn how to help the homeless and less-fortunate in your community, beyond the conventional food bank donation.
Here are eight unique ways you can support your community by volunteering this Thanksgiving.
Trot to Give
Every Thanksgiving morning, almost as many Americans enjoy a jog together as those who prepare the evening indulgence. According to Active, of the 318 “turkey trot” races being held this year, the majority are hosted by charities. Get active for a good cause, and bring as many friends as you can to earn your dinner later in the day.
Show Kids the Way
Every year, my family is lucky enough to pile into a semi truck to deliver boxes of food and supplies to parts of our city that don’t have soup kitchens and similar resource centers. Teams of volunteers load hundreds of boxes into the truck early that morning, and on the way, our kids get to see different parts of our city, allowing us to chat about the economic and social barriers that make these donations important. Upon arrival, even more volunteers help us unload and distribute the boxes right on the street. The sight of these varying neighborhoods is more informative to our kids than the lecturing or teaching we can do.
Systemic change happens when homelessness isn’t just treated, but prevented. Consider investing in someone’s future by donating shares of stock. If you cashed out the stock first and wrote a check to your charity, it would yield less of a donation after taxes. But because no capital gains are required on stock donations, the receiving charity benefits before they sell anything. Plus, over time, stocks have shown to offer the most return of all types of personal investment. This means your donation may double or even triple by the time the charity chooses to access its funds. Another benefit is a bigger tax deduction for your family at the end of the year. Not sure how to do this? Contact the National Coalition for the Homeless to get started.
Visit a Public Official
Another positive move for your community this time of year is to visit local policy makers, to whom you can advocate for those who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. With you every step of the way is So Others Might Eat (SOME), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the poor and homeless of Washington, DC. Here, you’ll find tips for visiting elected officials, and discussions on how to help the underprivileged in your town. Because hypothermia is a common life-threatening condition for people on the streets, for example, consider pitching an opportunity to give every citizen in your town access to a helpline phone number via their mobile devices. They may even be able to sponsor an app. This way, the entire community is equipped and on the lookout for those at risk of this all-to-common condition.
Check in on Local Seniors
Meals on Wheels serves seniors who want (and usually need) to stay home by teaming them up with a volunteer who offers food and company on a regular basis. Between visits, of course, these same seniors need a quick phone call or visit from others to be sure they’re safe and have their essentials. But if donating your resources on only one holiday of the year sounds insufficient to you, you’re not alone. Consider spending Thanksgiving morning as a delivery volunteer or between-visit safety check partner, for a task that’s sure to fill someone’s heart just as much as their appetite.
Donating cash is excellent, but if you’re already in your giving gear, brainstorm a less-conventional way to offer your time, energy, and money. Last year on Thanksgiving, friends of mine had the interesting task of crushing boxes by jumping on them to flatten the pile, making room for—you guessed it—more boxes. If you’re active and ready for a little offbeat fun this fall, ask whether you can get in on some physical maintenance behind the scenes. Pushing carts of supplies to volunteers, running messages between leaders, and organizing crowds can all become a blast when you turn help into a game.
Host a Crafting Class at Your Local Nursing Home
Thanksgiving-themed crafts can be as simple as a handprint turkey placemat from Meaningful Mama or as complex as pilgrim dolls. The participant’s benefit? Engaging every corner of their creative side.
When your art projects are complete, bring them to the local soup kitchen to adorn the tables as interesting centerpieces. Group homes and assisted-living centers thrive on the personality this brings to their community, and feel good knowing they’re benefiting the homeless.
Nothing breaks down barriers quite like a good meal. When the work is done, have your family eat together at the local food bank with the guests you’ve done so well to help. Personally, I find this simple act has done more to change my perspective toward our local homeless friends than the seasonal volunteer work we do earlier in the year, and that’s better than any donation I could have offered. Efforts to feed the hungry abound this season, but instead of just bringing canned goods and a check to donate, consider getting more involved. Knowing how to help the homeless in your community is only a matter of creativity and ingenuity.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done to volunteer for Thanksgiving? Share your story below to inspire a fellow reader.
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine