20 Simple Ways to Give Back This Thanksgiving 

Published November 9, 2022
Thank you card with Craft envelope, pumpkins

It's right there in the name: Thanksgiving is for giving thanks. And if you're lucky enough to be able to share your bounty, it can also be for giving back. Whether you score a great deal on some canned cranberry sauce you don't need or have a little extra time on your hands, there are tons of great ways to make giving for Thanksgiving part of your celebration. What may feel like a small gesture to you could make the holiday a lot brighter for those in need.

Give Back Thanksgiving Infographic

Organize a Turkey Day Litter Pickup

If you're like most families, the hours after Thanksgiving dinner are a bit of a blah time in the day. Organizing a litter pickup is a good way to get some energy back. It's like your regular after-dinner neighborhood stroll, but better. Grab separate bags for trash and recycling, and send your neighbors a text or email invite to do the same. Your neighborhood and your planet will look much better, and you'll feel great knowing you spent a couple of hours after the big meal making a difference in the world.

Grocery Shop for Those Who Can't Get to the Store

If you aren't super stressed with holiday meal prep, you can help make Thanksgiving a little more doable for those who have mobility or transportation challenges. If you have a friend without a car, offer to drive to the store. For those who can't get around as easily, you can do the grocery shopping for them. Just sit down and write a list together and then pick things up for them. It's a few hours of your time, but it can be a game-changer for people who are hosting dinner but can't do the shopping this year.

Check Your Pantry for Extra Items to Donate

You might not have much extra cash to spare during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, but you can still help with a donation. Scan your pantry for items you're not using. The holidays can be a high-need time for area food banks, and that extra can of soup in your pantry can be a meal for someone who is hungry. Checking for non-perishable items you won't use is a very affordable way to give back.

Write a Thank-You Note to Someone Who Rocks

You know those people who make a difference in your life, or in the world, in large and small ways? Think postal workers, non-profit volunteers, kids' teachers, even that barista at the coffee shop who takes the time to chat. Thanksgiving is all about gratitude, and you can show yours for the people who help make your life and the world a little better. If you have 15 minutes, sit down and handwrite a thank-you note to one of them. Drop it off on or before Thanksgiving Day to show your gratitude.

Adopt a Family for Thanksgiving

If you have a little spare cash this holiday, consider adopting a family for Thanksgiving. You can work with local organizations in your area, such as churches or community centers. These often have holiday programs for sponsoring a family. Otherwise, another good option is sponsoring a family internationally through a program like International Child. Although other countries may not celebrate Thanksgiving, it's a really good time to share your good fortune.

Volunteer at a Pet Shelter After Your Meal

Instead of watching the game after the big holiday meal, do something game-changing for pets in your area. The whole family can volunteer at an animal shelter, sharing a little time and a lot of love with pets who might need a bit of attention. To set up a session, call your local Humane Society and offer to come in and help for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving.

Deliver Thanksgiving Dinner With Meals on Wheels

Got an extra part of a day on Thanksgiving? Sign up to deliver food with Meals on Wheels. The organization notes that millions of seniors live in hunger and may have limited ability to get out and get food. This is a simple Thanksgiving volunteer opportunity - you can help just by using your vehicle to deliver hot meals.

Invite Others to Your Celebration

If you have some extra food, spread the good fortune by inviting friends, neighbors, and co-workers to your gathering. Even if the people you have over for dinner aren't in need of assistance, you'll be doing good by spreading your holiday cheer. This is especially important if you know someone who will be celebrating alone or might not be enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner.

Share Some Gratitude Online

It's easy to feel a little conflicted about the world of social media these days, but Thanksgiving is a good time to put a little extra positivity in your feed. Share what you're grateful for, or better yet, tell the people you know how grateful you are for them. It's a big world with a lot of division, and coming together in a positive way at Thanksgiving can help make it a little better.

Buy a Turkey for Someone

When it comes to the ultimate Thanksgiving gesture of good will, nothing beats buying a turkey for someone. While many food banks won't accept a fresh or frozen turkey donation due to storage limitations and liability, you can still buy a turkey if you have a little extra cash. A $30 donation to an organization like the Family-to-Family Turkey Drive can pay for a turkey and a side dish for another family. You can also work with your grocery store or another local group to buy turkeys for people who need them in your area.

Visit a Care Facility or Nursing Home

Senior woman with girl cutting apple at rest home

A couple of hours of your time on Thanksgiving Day might feel like no big deal to you, but it could be what makes the holiday happy for someone else. Not everyone in nursing homes and care facilities has family nearby to visit on a holiday, so this can make the day especially lonely. A visit from you could help a lot. Simply call up your local facility and ask if there is anyone there who could use a visit.

Teach Someone to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

If you have some time on Turkey Day, you can pass along important skills. Not everyone grows up learning how to cook, and making a Thanksgiving dinner can feel overwhelming to some people. If you know someone who has their first apartment or who wants to host a big dinner but doesn't know how, volunteer to teach them how to cook all the traditional favorites. If you give them the skills and leave them with some recipes, you'll be paying forward Thanksgiving joy for years to come.

Score Some Good Deals on Food and Donate It

As you're buying your ingredients for your Thanksgiving dinner, keep an eye out for great deals and store promotions. When you see a two-for-one deal or a special sale, pick up an extra item. Then you can donate your extra food to the local food bank. This even works for fresh produce, as many food banks accept produce donations.

Ask Dinner Guests for a Warm Clothing Donation

Instead of asking guests to bring a dish to pass, ask them to come to your Thanksgiving dinner with any gently used warm clothing they might not need. In many areas, late November is when the weather starts to get nasty, so Thanksgiving is the perfect time for a coat and mitten donation drive. This only takes a few minutes of your time to communicate the plan to your guests, and it's an easy way to focus on giving back for Thanksgiving. You can all admire the amazing haul of warm clothes, and you can donate everything the day after the holiday.

Give Money to a Food Bank

Food banks take monetary gifts as well as food items, and cash donations actually give them more flexibility to buy what people really need. Instead of dropping off a bunch of boxes of pasta or cans of beans, write a check for what you can afford to give. You can choose a national organization like Feeding America or a local one you know of in your area.

Join a Turkey Trot or Hunger Walk

Spend part of your Thanksgiving Day walking to help those who are hungry. Many charitable organizations host hunger walks or Turkey Trots on the big day where you can get sponsors to donate for every mile or kilometer you walk. Look around for a local charity fundraising walk or start your own and invite friends to join. Organizations like No Kid Hungry can help you get started with fundraising.

Serve Thanksgiving Dinner at a Shelter

There's a reason one of the classic Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities is serving a meal to people in need: it's a direct way to share your time and resources with those who are less fortunate. Find a local shelter and see how you can help out on Turkey Day. It might be behind the scenes cooking the meal or cleaning up, or it could be dishing up food.

Donate a Grocery Gift Card

A little extra grocery money can matter a lot during the holidays, especially for families. If you have a little cash to spare, buy a grocery gift card from your local supermarket. You can keep a low profile and give it anonymously at a shelter or food bank, or you can discretely pass it along to someone you know who could use it.

Drop Off Thanksgiving Meal Packs to Neighbors

We all know someone who will be alone during the holidays, and you can bring a little joy and give back to your community by dropping off Thanksgiving dinners to-go. Think of it as your own personal version of Meals on Wheels. If you have extra food on Thanksgiving Day, make up individual servings of the traditional dishes. Put them in baskets or bags and add a note to let the person know it's from you. Drive around the neighborhood dropping off the goodies (and don't forget the pie).

Perform Three Small Acts of Kindness

If you have just a few spare moments amid all the holiday prep, turn that scrap of time into a way to give back. You may find this is a great way to counteract the holiday stress bomb while giving back at the same time. Choose some small acts of kindness you can do in a few minutes and try to do three of them on Thanksgiving Day. This can be an activity for the whole family, too. Here are a few ideas:

  • Hold a door for a person at the store.
  • Thank someone who is just doing their job.
  • Leave a larger-than-normal tip.
  • Give someone the chance to go in front of you in a line.
  • Pay someone a compliment.
  • Call or text a friend who might be lonely.
  • Pay for someone else's coffee.
  • Bring hot apple cider to neighbors or friends.
  • Put out some food for birds or wild animals.

A Little Positivity Goes a Long Way

Giving for Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a huge and complicated thing. Little gestures of gratitude and positivity can go a long way. Whether you have a little extra cash, a bit of time, or some extra food, bring on the volunteering and Thanksgiving donations. Appreciating and sharing good fortune is what this holiday is all about.

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20 Simple Ways to Give Back This Thanksgiving