3 Ways to Give Back This Thanksgiving

We all want to do more during the holiday season. And it can be easy to say you will, but then hard to actually decide what to do. When giving back to your community, it’s important to really think about what your neighbors need and what obstacles they will face during this time of year. Once you find the right way to channel that Thanksgiving spirit, I suspect you’ll want to make it more than an annual tradition.

Whether you have time, money, or goods to offer, being considerate with your contribution can help you make a real difference. Here are three places to start and some important things to consider before you act:

Support Your Local Food Bank

What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions Thanksgiving? It’s food. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have a hot meal to enjoy each day, let alone on a holiday. Volunteering to serve meals at your local food bank can help you connect with your community and provide a valuable service. 

You can also donate food items, but you want to make sure you’re giving these facilities products their visitors can actually use. You don’t want to send along foods that will perish easily or are difficult to prepare by someone with limited tools and resources. They may also have specific medical needs, which is why healthy options are preferred over processed convenience goods. In short, ask yourself: “Would I eat this?”

When in doubt, contact your nearest food bank to see what items are on their list. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  1. Powdered milk to help prepare other packaged foods, like macaroni and cheese
  2. Canned goods with easy-open pull tabs
  3. Foods that are low in sugar and sodium and high in fiber (preferably fresh)
  4. Jars or packets of spices and plastic cooking oils like olive or canola oil
  5. Rice
  6. Pasta and jarred sauce
  7. Baby food and formula
  8. Easy-to-prepare baking mixes (just add water)
  9. Peanut butter and sliced bread
  10. Whole grain cereals for kids and adults

Donate to a Homeless Shelter

We’ve all been reminded lately how lucky we are to have a safe, warm place to live. And I bet you also have items around your home you don’t need anymore (like that bin of tiny hotel soaps). Your local homeless shelter will also be in need of support this holiday season, especially as temperatures drop, which makes it the perfect time to pack up those extra goods and pass them on.

Homeless shelters need contributions to help them care for their residents, but you want to make sure what you’re donating is functional. Don’t send anything you wouldn’t purchase second-hand for yourself or your family. If it’s stretched out, damaged, or appears overly worn, recycle it instead. Consider the weather and what you use on a daily basis, or call ahead of stopping by. Old prom dresses? No. That like-new parka your kid grew out of after one winter? Yes. 

Here are some items homeless shelters can always use:

  1. Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, lotion, etc.)
  2. Feminine care products (tampons, sanitary pads, etc.)
  3. Warm winter coats, gloves, hats, and scarves
  4. Undergarments and socks
  5. Baby supplies
  6. Laundry detergent
  7. Grooming tools (nail clippers, combs, brushes, etc.)
  8. Blankets
  9. Books for all ages
  10. Business attire for both men and women for job hunting

Make a New Connection

Many people feel alone during the holidays. Their loved ones may be far away or deceased, which makes days like Thanksgiving especially hard. Finding ways to reach out and connect with people you know and those you don’t can make more of a difference than you realize. 

Look for programs through a local school, church, or nonprofit that pair you up with a child in need of mentoring. Maybe you help them with reading, a sport you both play or you let them shadow you at work — these connections are invaluable to a child’s development, mental health, and self-esteem. 

You can also work with a local nursing home or hospital to visit seniors or other patients who may be far from family right now. Sharing a conversation or a meal can lift their spirits and remind them of the joy to be found in this day and time of year.

What is your favorite way to give back during the holiday season? Share your suggestions with us in the comments.