By Mary Wong
Giving back to the community is always important, but this is especially true around Thanksgiving. While most people look forward to spending time with family and friends feasting on turkey and stuffing and watching the parades and football games, for others it’s a very different story. Many people are alone this time of year. Others are homeless. Some are sick. Sadly, not everyone has a place to go and people with whom they can spend the holiday.
Many people want to be difference makers this time of year, but they’re unaware of what to do and how to help. The first thing that comes to mind for most people is serving food at a local soup kitchen or shelter. This is indeed important because these organizations rely greatly on volunteers, but having a large number of people show up to help on the holiday can be overwhelming. With that said, there are a number of other ways to help out and give back to your community.
Extend an invitation
Thanksgiving is a time to come together with friends and family, but not everyone has that opportunity. Is there someone you know that will be alone this year that you could invite to spend Thanksgiving in your home? Perhaps it’s a neighbor who is a recent widow, someone who just went through a divorce, a military family who can’t all be together this year, or anyone who lives by themselves and has no family.
Visit patients in a hospital or nursing facility
Nobody wants to spend Thanksgiving stuck in a bed in a hospital room, but unfortunately, it happens. Go visit local hospitals and assisted-living facilities. Find out when visiting hours are and make the rounds visiting people who can’t be at home this year. Sitting and having a conversation will be the highlight of the day for many of these people, and it will make you feel good about yourself.
The American Red Cross says that every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. This Thanksgiving, one of the best ways to give back to the community is to donate the precious gift of life. Blood donations are a critical part of saving lives, and you never know who your donation might help. Visit your local blood bank, roll up your sleeve and donate blood today.
Thank law enforcement and military
This Thanksgiving, make sure and thank your local police officers and members of the military. Without them, you wouldn’t have the freedom you enjoy every day living in this country. You can visit the local police station with pastries and coffee to show your appreciation to the men and women that protect the community and can’t spend Thanksgiving with their families. You can send letters to our servicemen and women stationed overseas who can’t be at home for the holidays. Or the next time you see a police officer patrolling your street, simply go up and say thanks for all that they do. Don’t forget our firefighters, too.
Give clothes, not food
There are plenty of shelters and soup kitchens that offer meals on Thanksgiving. A better way to give back is by donating clothing. The weather in many parts of the country is getting cold this time of year, so donate those old jackets, sweaters, scarves and gloves that you don’t use anymore. Help someone stay warm this year as the bitter cold gets ready to settle in. There are many organizations that will gladly take these items from you.
Whether it’s with your local library, religious organization, in your child’s classroom, at a community nonprofit or wherever, give the gift of your time and volunteer. J.K. Rowling said, “We are only as strong as we are united.” The fact is, many of these organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Even committing to as little as one to two hours each week can make a huge difference and would be greatly appreciated.
Do something nice for a stranger
There’s no better time than Thanksgiving to do something nice for a stranger. Maybe it’s letting the person with the screaming baby behind you in line at the supermarket go ahead of you. Maybe it’s leaving a few extra dollars for the waitress who is obviously having a rough day. Perhaps it’s helping a senior citizen cross the street. A small act of kindness can be a big deal to someone else. Doing something nice for someone you don’t know is a great way to have an attitude of gratitude this holiday season.
Above all else this Thanksgiving, perhaps one of the best ways you can give back and get into the spirit of the holiday is to make sure and say “thank you” to all those special people in your life. We live in a fast-paced world and often take things for granted. Take a few minutes this Thanksgiving to say thank you to your spouse, children, parents, boss, neighbors, friends and other meaningful people in your life.
Mary Wong is president of the Office Depot Foundation, the nonprofit charitable giving arm of Office Depot Inc. To learn about the Foundation and its work, visit www.officedepotfoundation.org.