7 Ways to Volunteer This Thanksgiving and Help Your Community
As satisfying as a warm plate of roast turkey might be, nothing fills the heart up more than volunteering for Thanksgiving. And while that tenderness can stem from reminiscing with loved ones over a bountiful feast, it can also arise from giving back with your time or through a donation.
Volunteering has been proven to reduce stress and increase positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine, according to the Mayo Clinic. And research has found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, because the benefits of reduced stress further decrease risk of many physical and mental health problems, such has heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, and general illness. Besides the many health benefits, it's lovely to feel a sense of purpose and can often lead to new social connections — literally making you more thankful in the process.
Thanksgiving is one of the most popular times for volunteering, so while there are a wide variety of opportunities, it's best to sign up for something sooner rather than later. (Who wants to get turned away from delivering turkeys and seeing the smile on someone's face?) If you're seeking meaningful ways to give back over this holiday, here are Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities that will give you a newfound sense of gratitude and appreciation.
Deliver meals to people in need.
If you like being behind the wheel, consider delivering meals to those in need. While there are tons of organizations that deliver meals on Thanksgiving, Meals on Wheels is a great option with local branches all over the country (search its website for nearby locations). The need for new volunteers varies by community. If you can't make it for the ride, you can donate food to your community's branch, too. You can also reach out to your local Salvation Army or hospice organizations to see if they are in need of volunteers for meal-delivery services.
Run in a turkey trot.
Looking to give back on Thanksgiving and work up a big appetite while doing so? Sign up for a turkey trot! There are tons of races that take place all over the country during Thanksgiving, many of which benefit local charities and support good causes. And if you want to take part in the action but running isn't exactly your thing, you can also inquire about volunteering at these events!
Serve dinner at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
These facilities are often in need of volunteers to not only cook and serve the meals, but also collect the food and ensure there is enough to go around. Setting up the service area, greeting and seating visitors, and cleaning up afterward are also ways you can contribute. To search for these types of opportunities, call your local Salvation Army or visit VolunteerMatch. You can also check Craigslist or reach out to local churches in your area.
Send care packages to troops.
If you don't have time to volunteer on Thanksgiving day, don't fret — there are still plenty of ways you can get out and help. One option is putting together a few care packages and sending them to troops deployed overseas. The Department of Defense suggests contacting your local Red Cross or referring to Military One Source, for more information on how to send your care package.
Donate to your local food bank.
By donating to your local food bank, you can give the gift of meals and memories to families struggling with hunger. In fact, with every $1 you give, you help provide 10 meals through the Feeding America network of food banks. You can also reach out to your local food bank to find out which foods are needed through donation.
Visit local residents in need.
Whether it's through a conversation or simply being in the presence of others, sometimes there is nothing more meaningful than connecting with someone who really needs it. From nursing homes and veteran associations to hospitals and homeless shelters, the options are endless for making someone's holiday more memorable and enjoyable.
Don't forget to help out within your own family, too.
If your Thanksgiving gathering is anything like my family's, year after year, there is always that same small group of people who seem to take on most of the day's preparation and serving. If that's the case for you, consider switching things up this year. Whether it's enlisting new helpers to orchestrate the grocery lists, cook the food, set the tables, or even take on most of the clean-up, what better way to show appreciation for these loved ones than by giving them a well-deserved break? This is a wonderful way to give thanks to your own family. (And a pro tip if you end up cooking the turkey: don't forget it needs days to thaw out, not just a couple of hours!)
A few final suggestions . . .
The best way to get started is by volunteering or donating whatever and wherever you can. Whether that's by collecting cans for your neighborhood food drive or distributing baked goods to people having to work on Thanksgiving (essential workers, firefighters, animal-shelter staff, etc.), there is never a gesture that is too small.
If you're ready to roll up your sleeves and show some love, check out sites such as VolunteerMatch for local opportunities near you. And remember: the more flexible you are in your role for the day, the more indispensable you will be as a volunteer!