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Not Your Average Thanksgiving: one family's alternative holiday plan

Tips For Volunteering As A Family During Thanksgiving

In his ministry, Jesus talked a lot about helping others and teaching that he came to serve. Growing up in a missionary home with two parents who were passionate about reaching those in need, I developed a deep desire to serve like Jesus. There’s something about giving to those who can’t give back that fills me with joy. I’ve felt it many times, and now as a parent I want my kids to experience it as well. That’s why, three years ago, my family decided to try something new for Thanksgiving.

We weren't disappointed.

Feeling exhausted after attending brunches, lunches, and dinners each year, we wanted to experience something different--something that would leave us feeling fulfilled rather than just filled at the end of the day. Both my husband and I had always been curious about volunteering to serve others--to eat with them and get to know groups of people we wouldn’t otherwise meet. Not only that, but we knew it would be good for our children to take part in serving as early as possible. So we skipped the traditional meals and decided to serve instead.

Along with my parents, my family volunteered at a community center and the experience was life changing for all of us. The kids couldn’t stop smiling, and it warmed my heart to see the way they lifted spirits. Attendees wanted to talk with them, hear their jokes, and a few shed tears over the small boys filling their coffee mugs and taking their empty dishes for them. We couldn’t wait to do it again the following year.

Though we did hit a few road blocks trying to get signed up the first time, we discovered a few things that have made it easier to serve in the years following. If you're interested in volunteering with your family, here are some helpful tips:

Helpful Tips For Volunteering As A Family On Thanksgiving

  • Age matters. The first place we looked into volunteering at was a big, well-known homeless shelter. I knew they did a huge, all-day event, so I went online to sign up and discovered that we couldn’t because my kids were too young. That was the case for a lot of other shelters as well. If you have young kids, make sure you check with the shelter first (usually there’s a coordinator willing to take your calls) before committing.
  • Check out your local city/town calendar. The first year we wound up volunteering at a small town community center. They didn’t have age restrictions, and we had a blast. The people were diverse and there for a multitude of reasons, so we served people from all walks of life. Additionally, there were opportunities to do more than serve food. I was able to cook and prep while others volunteered for clean-up. This might work well if you only have a certain time slot you can devote to service.
  • Contact local youth homes. These dinners are usually smaller, more intimate events. You’ll meet other kids and their families, and serving is more limited to prep or bringing a dish to share. It’s a great, less intensive option.
  • If you can’t find anything in your area, consider organizing your own event. Contact a local church or your church home and see if they would be open to hosting a Thanksgiving celebration. You may be surprised by how many others want to help but don’t have a place to go or don’t know how to connect.
  • Invite your extended family. It can be hard to tell your family members that you won’t be attending Thanksgiving dinner with them. Some family members may take it personally, and some might get irritated. Rather than canceling outright, consider extending an invitation with a link to the sign-up page or other ways to serve. Cooking alongside my dad was an awesome experience, and afterwards we all went home to relax and watch a movie. All-in-all, a pretty great day.

I’m so glad my family began this new tradition. We loved every minute of it, and we walked away changed.

Not only did we get to meet some amazing people who we connected with, we couldn’t wait to do it again the following year. If you’ve ever considered serving for the holidays, don’t wait another year, do it now. You won’t regret it.

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