Thanksgiving is a tradition-filled day that kicks off the end-of-year holiday season of shopping, decorating, exchanging gifts and, hopefully, charitable giving. No matter how your family honors Thanksgiving, Natalie Silverstein, MPH, author of Simple Acts: The Busy Family's Guide to Giving Back, says it is full of opportunities to create new family traditions that help children understand how lucky they are to have the comforts of home, food, and family and that teach family members to express gratitude for all of the goodness in their lives.
"Volunteering with your children at an organization that feeds the hungry is an excellent way to show gratitude on or near a day of feasting," say Silverstein. "Understandably it might be difficult to find time away from grocery shopping, cooking, and baking, and in some cases, young children are not allowed to assist in food preparation. However most organizations that work to fight hunger begin preparations for Thanksgiving well in advance of the holiday, and may offer other roles for children, such as stocking shelves or filling bags with donated groceries. For many of these organizations, this is the busiest time of the year, when they feed the most people and provide support for additional families who are not regular clients but who don't have the resources to make a special Thanksgiving feast. There is great need, and there are many ways your family can help, even if you only have a little time to spare."
If you are unfamiliar with the location of a local food pantry, food-delivery organization, or soup kitchen, these online resources can help you find one:
Also try reaching out to houses of worship and other faith-based organizations, as they frequently help to feed the hungry at Thanksgiving. Once you’ve identified an appropriate organization to help, inquire about what kinds of assistance are needed around Thanksgiving.
Silverstein suggests some ways your family can make a difference:
- During the month of November, work with your children to organize a canned-food drive in your neighborhood; with a Girl or Boy Scout troop; or in your apartment building, school, or house of worship. Collect specific requested Thanksgiving foods.
- Donate frozen turkeys to your local food pantry, or contribute grocery-store gift cards.
- Ask whether you and your family can bake and donate pies or other desserts.
- In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, encourage children to create cards of decorate place mats, shopping bags, or to be used or included in Thanksgiving deliveries.
At your own Thanksgiving table with family and friends, Silverstein suggests including time for reflection about gratitude and kindness. "Take a moment during the meal to allow each person to mention a specific thing for which he or she is grateful. Ask everyone to write down his words of gratitude on a colorful slip of paper (along with his name and the date) and add them to a gratitude jar. The jar can be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table each year! Every few years, pull a few slips of paper out of the jar during dinner and read them aloud. These mementos will become treasured remembrances as time goes by," says Silverstein.
Arts-and-crafts projects that help children express gratitude and brighten the Thanksgiving dinner table are easily found online. Here are some favorites:
- Trace children’s hands, and cut out the outlines to create handprint turkeys. On each “feather,” children can write a person or thing for which they are grateful.
- Paper “gratitude leaves” can be hung from a stick.
- An individualized place mat for each guest can list the top 10 things that the child loves or appreciates about that person.