The facts about hunger in America are shocking — and very real. And, this year the phrase “there but the grace of God go I” has newly poignant meaning, thanks to a bumpy economy. To pitch in to help the rising number of Americans seeking food assistance from food banks, soup kitchens and charities, start thinking about Thanksgiving in October, or a few weeks before the holiday. Make it a priority to help relieve hunger and distress, if even for a day.
That’s precisely what Food for Others, a non-profit organization based in Virginia, does: they begin collecting for Thanksgiving in October. And a quick scan of their “most wanted” list explains why. They, like domestic food aid organizations nationwide, need everything from cases of canned soup to a little bag of rice.
Here are ten steps Americans can take in October and November to help others enjoy Thanksgiving:
- Volunteer (Ahead of Time) to Help at the Local Food Pantry or Shelter. Schedule it in advance. Many volunteers call last minute, or even just show up. With increased demand for meals, local shelters and food banks need to plan ahead. Interested volunteers can work through churches or other faith-based communities or local food pantries and schools.
- Lose 5 Pounds, Save Food Money and Make a Contribution. Why not kill two birds with one stone? For a week or two, eat less, save a little extra on food, and contribute the savings to the needy for the holiday. Or, just skip a regular treat, like Starbucks coffee, for a few weeks, and donate the savings.
- Have a Charity Dinner Party and Get a Macy’s Matching Grant. Macy’s, in partnership with the organization Feeding America and food banks, launched a dollar-for-dollar matching program called “Come Together,” with goal of feeding 10 million people in the US who are suffering from hunger. The idea is to encourage people to hold dinner parties and that hosts will request that their guests, instead of bringing flowers or a bottle of wine, instead make a donation to Feeding America or a local food bank. Macy’s will match these gifts until 10 million people are fed.
- Raid The Pantry. Check out all the unused cans of food in the pantry, including canned meats such as ham, turkey, chicken, tuna, and beef; canned soup, stew, and chili; canned fruit or vegetables. canned beans and canned juices. Then check out the dry goods such as boxes of macaroni and cheese, pasta, grains and rice. Finally, see if the family can do without a jar of peanut butter or jelly, or fruit juices, tea, coffee. Closer to Thanksgiving, fresh fruit and vegetables are welcome.
- Assemble a Thanksgiving Basket. Shelters and charitable organizations serving Thanksgiving meals to the needy can use everything from large disposable tin roasting pans, to stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, potatoes and canned gravy.
- Donate Food Certificates. Are there food certificates or coupons lying around the house unused? Donate them — in advance —so that a charitable organization can use them in preparing Thanksgiving meals for the needy.
- Do a Hunger Charity Walk or Run. Most communities have fundraising athletic events, such as walks or runs, to raise money for free Thanksgiving meals or similar hunger-relieving charities. If not, be the first on the block to start one.
- Make Fighting Hunger a Family Project. Families with children might make a family project of filling up a jam jar with spare change, to be donated for Thanksgiving meals.
- Organize or Participate in a Food Drive. Many people actually have foodstuffs that they’d happily donate — if someone else would only remind them to do so. Volunteer at the local senior center, faith institution, public school, hospital or shelter to help an existing food drive. Or, start a new food drive among friends, neighbors, work colleagues.
- Make Family Thanksgiving a Charitable Moment. Ask guests to bring a can of food to be donated to the local food bank after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, they’ll be able to use it for Christmas and the year-end holidays.
It is the year to ratchet up one’s Thanksgiving generosity. Food bank resources are stretched. Media reports detail the increased numbers of even full-time working individuals, and until-recently middle-class families who are now seeking free food. As a measure of the times, they include some people who until recently had been contributors to, not recipients of, food banks. Even large retailers, such as Macy’s, are responding to the situation in unusual ways.
Helping out at Thanksgiving won’t solve the underlying, systemic causes of hunger in America. But it’s terrible to be chronically hungry. And there is much that people can do by planning ahead — for someone else’s happy Thanksgiving.