The tradition of public acknowledgement of thanks and feasting with loved ones traces back to the Plymouth Rock in the 17th century, before our founding fathers shaped our nation, before the presidential proclamation of the holiday in 1863. We all know the story. Whether the details children are taught in school truly reflected the event or not, the sentiment of the holiday makes it a favorite of many (yes, even without the presents or dress up!)
Over the years, people have recognized Thanksgiving as not only a time to pause in gratitude, but a time to act. Giving thanks is even more meaningful when you can give back, especially when the whole family gets involved. Not only is it a great way to bond, but it instills in kids the value of public service and selflessness. Whether you are looking for a big commitment or a quick and fun activity, consider these ideas to do some good as a family this holiday season.
1. Visit a retirement home and socialize with the residents
Make some new friends and spend a fun afternoon with senior citizens playing board games, doing crafts, or simply chatting with them. Home residents are often missing human interaction and young fresh faces; spending time with them will truly brighten their day, and we bet you will enjoy it too! It’s also important for children to learn to appreciate the elderly and their life experience, especially if they don’t have grandparents of their own.
2. Have a meat free and locally sourced Thanksgiving feast
This year, challenge yourself to buy all your ingredients from local providers and farms to support local businesses and minimize environmental impact. To take it a step further, consider sparing the turkey. Eating less meat as a country is an important step to improving our health and the health of the planet. (Learn more about the benefits.) The traditional day of feasting and abundance is the perfect opportunity to prove that plants and whole foods can provide a full dimensional dining experience that will satisfy even the staunchest naysayers. The internet is ripe with vegetarian and vegan thanksgiving recipes. Don’t forget to get the kids involved in the kitchen too!
3. Do an autumn sweep and donate to shelters & charities
Get a major head start on your spring cleaning! Tell the kids that they need to make room for the toys and clothes they’ll receive on Christmas (if they’re good!). Have them collect all the toys they don’t play with anymore and the clothes they have outgrown. Go through your pantry, your linen closest, the garage, anywhere that could use some down-sizing. Ask a local church or hop on the internet to find a homeless or battered women’s shelter in your area.
4. Get your hands dirty with Habitat for Humanity
Imagine helping to build a home for a family in need! Habitat for Humanity is always looking for long term and one day volunteers for many projects near you. This volunteer opportunity is best for older kids and teens; get the relatives involved for an even stronger task force. There are other ways to make a difference without operating a saw. Habitat connects volunteers with park beautification projects, community facility repairs, and community workshops, and much more. Find opportunities in your area today!
5. Buy extra on your next grocery store trip
This is the easiest way to do some good. Many major grocery chains have donation programs during the holiday season. While you are doing your weekend shop, put a little of your budget towards some necessities for others in need. Some stores even sell bundles of food already packaged. All you do is pay about $10 more at checkout.
6. Send a care package or letter to a serviceman or woman overseas
Spread some holiday cheer and show your gratitude for the men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting our nation. Turn card making into a crafts day with the kids. Pack fun items that they are probably missing from the States like Cheetos and iTunes gift cards. See other ideas and a list of no-go’s here.
7. Host a school or church bake sale and donate the proceeds to charity
Brush up on your cookie decorating skills! As a family, pick a cause or charity that you feel strongly about (like animal welfare or clean water in underdeveloped countries). Outline the planning process with the kids and have them help out with recruiting bakers and volunteers, making signs, setting up the space, etc. It’s a great opportunity to learn first hand how to organize a successful event and the kids will feel good knowing they made a difference for something they care about.
8. Offer to help an elderly or disabled neighbor with a household project or shopping
There are probably plenty of people in your 1 mile radius who could use some help. Ask around or knock on a neighbor’s door and find out how their doing. Tell them you’d be honored to help them with whatever comes up in conversation. Or be more direct: have the kids go over with a lawn mower and some clippers and offer to tidy up their lawn.
If you don’t have a lot of neighbors nearby, sign up with Meals On Wheels to deliver food and comfort to home bound seniors.
9. Shop local on Small Business Saturday
We all know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard of the great new recent movement called Small Business Saturday?
Sure, the internet and big box stores offer competitive discounts to rope in early holiday shoppers, but local independently owned stores also like to offer deals around this time. Plus, you are bound to find more unique gifts as well! Supporting small businesses is important to the local economy and environmental stability, among other hard to ignore reasons, like strengthening community ties and stimulating entrepreneurship.
10. Take to the streets for random acts of kindness.
Charities and clothes drives receive a lot of clothes, but not enough of the bare essentials like undergarments. Most people will agree that nothing can make you feel more comfortable than a clean pair of underpants or warm socks.
Buy a couple of new sets of inexpensive socks, underwear, and gloves and put together a few packages. Go to an area of town with a prominent homeless population and give them out with your holiday well wishes. This is probably only an appropriate family project for teens. Of course, you can always simply do a drop-off donation to a shelter.
To look up volunteer projects going on now in your community visit this great resource: www.thevolunteerfamily.org
And because no one can resist a great infographic, check out History.com’s Thanksgiving by numbers.