Many of us are fortunate enough to have cozy and welcoming family and friends to spend Thanksgiving with.
However, there are hundreds of New Yorkers who are not in our privileged position. Whether they are homeless and/or living in poverty, putting foods on the dining table is an enormous struggle for any ordinary day, let alone on Thanksgiving. Some might even be homeless teens who are in shelters, feeling alone and abandoned.
There are a ton of elderly people living in nursing homes whom might not have any family to spend the holiday with. Maybe they’ve lost contact with loved ones or none of their family members are alive anymore. Regardless, these elderly people would want a genuine human connection, especially during the holidays.
Everyone deserves to feel a sense of belonging and love, especially during the holidays. Before you rush to your families next week, consider volunteering right in your community and really participate in the season of giving.
Keep in mind that when you’re volunteering, it is crucial not to look down on the person you’re helping, but to see them eye-to-eye. This is undoubtedly my biggest pet peeve when volunteering alongside others. It’s not easy to admit that you need help and receiving it, so it makes the situation much worse is the volunteer, although indirectly, making you feel more ashamed than you already are.
In the hustle and bustle on the holiday season, it’s easy to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays. Especially on Thanksgiving, we should really think of it as the season of showing gratitude and giving back. There are dozens of volunteer opportunities you can do before/on Thanksgiving throughout the city. So, bring a friend or go alone, but remember to serve your community this season.
Here are some of the many ways and places you can volunteer. These opportunities go above and beyond just donating canned food (although doing this is important too).
1. Hand Deliver Meals Through FeedingNYC and CityMeals on Wheels
FeedingNYC is a grassroots organization that provides volunteers with meal kits to volunteers to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a family in need. You will prepare the food and deliver the meal to a family in a shelter. They have partnerships with Women in Need, Jewish Federation, Catholic Charities, Local Shelters and Missions and City Harvest. Their mission for the past 17 years has been to ensure every family in need as a hot Thanksgiving meal each year.
Similarly, CityMeals on Wheels also relies on its volunteers to deliver meals. Their meals are already cooked, so all you need to do is deliver them to elderly people living in isolation. Go the extra mile and strike up conversations with the recipients of the meals. That could really warm their hearts.
2. Visit Local Residents in Need
As human beings, connecting with other humans is vital to our livelihood. Countless studies have shown that loneliness significantly increases the chances of a person having depression, heart diseases, and a shortened life expectancy. Whether it’s a conversation or simply your presence, there is nothing more meaningful than fulfilling someone’s longing for connection.
From nursing homes and hospitals to shelters and veteran associations, there are endless places you can go to make someone’s holiday more special and enjoyable. Just make sure to call the facility ahead to see if there are any restrictions for visitors.
3. Host a Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry
Friendsgiving for No Kid Hungry helps children across to nation to get enough food. They connect children in need to programs like school breakfast, after-school meals, and summer lunches. If you are already going to host a friendsgiving, make a fundraiser out of it. Explain the mission of No Kid Hungry to the attendees of the dinner, and urge them to donate to your own fundraising page. For every $1 raised, one child in need can get up to 10 meals.
Friendsgiving is a big trend among young New Yorkers, since many of us come from all over the world and some might not be familiar with Thanksgiving, or are unable to travel home for it. So, make the event even more special by helping dozens of kids in need.
4. Gather Coats to Give to People Experiencing Homelessness
People are quick to donate food around the holiday, but donating coats is just as, or even more, important. As the holidays approach, the temperature drops below freezing, and they are thousands of New Yorkers experience homelessness. There are always more people who need winter coats than there are coats donated. Since winter coats are expensive even for an average person, they are not donated as much as other clothing are. Work with your apartment’s manager/super to organize a coat drive in your building, and/or start one at your work or school.
New York Cares has all the information you need to start a coat drive, and they list various places across the city where you can drop the coats off. Also, most police precincts accept donated coats to give out to those in need.
5. Invite a Neighbor to Join Your Thanksgiving Table
Making a difference this Thanksgiving can happen right on your doorsteps. The holidays can be hard for many people for various reasons, especially if their family live far away. Maybe one of your neighbor just moved to the city from California and doesn’t have friends here yet. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a relative or friend to share a holiday meal witn.
Whether or not you’re close to your neighbor, invite them to the Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody needs that many leftovers and you can always benefit from making a new friend.
Volunteering during the holidays don’t always have to be a big pnemenom. Sometimes the simplest thing can make the biggest difference. Even if you make Thanksgiving better for just one person, that still means a lot.