On television and in print media we see images of Thanksgiving Day with tables heaped high with comfort food, family members and/or friends around the table - visions of plenty. We know that not everyone has the same level of comfort and resources that we have, yet for many of us the official Day of Thanksgiving is about us - about gathering our people around our table to share our food, our home, and our good times.
I have a lot of admiration for people who spend Thanksgiving serving food to those who don't have fancy dinners at home, or any dinners for that matter. But for those of us who have grown attached to our private family celebrations on the big day and for whom missing one of the post-feast football games would be sacrilege, there's good news: the giving part of Thanksgiving can be done any day of the year.
That's not exactly news. But just in case you're short on ideas on how to give back, or you're in search of new ones, here are some cool ways that people have been passing their gifts along:
- A group of Rotarians volunteered to plant trees to beautify their city streets.
- Medical groups went abroad to perform dental work, plastic surgery on cleft palates, and other health care services in places with scarce medical resources.
- A business owner contributed the resources and his own time to dig wells in Africa, ensuring safe drinking water for communities plagued by illnesses linked to poor quality water sources.
- A busy young mother volunteered to get training and then meet weekly one-on-one to help another adult learn to read.
- A bagel shop donated its day-end inventory to a local swim team to use at its fundraiser snack bar.
- A neighbor volunteered and painted the garage exterior of a disabled resident to cover profane graffitti and spruce up the appearance of the streetscape.
- A retired couple traveled to help with post-Katrina cleanup.
- A brother and sister donated the toys that they don't use any more and are still in good condition to a crisis shelter for battered women and their families.
- Companies sponsored at-risk children to attend a summer leadership camp, where they learned about how to set goals and to see brighter futures for themselves.
- An elderly gentleman read in the newspaper about a boy's bike being stolen, so he went out and purchased a replacement for the boy, who happened to live in a nearby town. They had no other connection other than the news story.
- A professional firm makes a point of doing two pro bono projects per year so people who would not typically have access to their services can do so.
- Group after group volunteers to provide the dream of home ownership by volunteering to help build through Habitat for Humanity.
- A couple of singing friends from a local church make the rounds of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, entertaining residents who are often lonely and in need of cheering up.
Our gifts are so varied, and so are the opportunities for us to give - in our neighborhoods, in our community organizations, in our country and around the world. The first key is in being open enough to notice the opportunities, and the second is taking action to respond when the opportunity arises. Yes, a lot of us are strapped right now, and a lot of us are crushingly busy with our own lives. What better way, though, to really show our thanks than to give?