The legend goes that a group of European settlers called Pilgrims landed by ship in an area of Massachusetts and were greeted by the native people already living in that land. The US Census Bureau website identifies the natives as the Wampanoag people who played a lead role in this historic encounter, and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists during the newcomers’ first year. The Wampanoag are a people with a sophisticated society who have occupied the region for thousands of years. They have their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture. They are also a people for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life.”
We all know by now, hopefully, that the story of the Pilgrims and the indigenous people breaking bread and living happily ever after on Plymouth Rock is probably more fiction than fact. But, what many of us don’t realize is that despite the mythology of its basis, Thanksgiving has become the biggest day of the year that promotes community service and people actually devoting a portion of their lives to doing something for other people who they are not necessarily related to by blood.
The truth about Thanksgiving is that it actually lives up to its name in that people are more inclined to want to go out and volunteer to serve those who are less fortunate. Joel Berg, the Executive Director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, which represents more than 1,100 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries and over 1.5 million low-income food insecure New Yorkers says that Thanksgiving and Christmas draws some of the largest numbers when compared to other days of the year. And, while the lack of volunteerism on the other days of the year is definitely not good, for those who do volunteer on Thanksgiving, it is often the first segue-way into community service.
A couple of years ago, I had students in one of my Communication Studies courses who went above and beyond their Public Service Announcement assignment by actually going out and giving back to their community. For all of these students, they hadn’t ever volunteered before and the experience was life-changing for many of them. I volunteered for the first time on Thanksgiving when I was in high school. I served elderly people at a community thanksgiving meal sponsored by my teacher’s Elk lodge. I loved feeling useful. The people I served also were so sweet and appreciative, sharing their stories of their lives with me. Almost all of them were elderly people without families of their own. This experience was life-changing for me, too.
The truth about Thanksgiving is that it is an opportunity to do good, just like any other day of the year, but happens to be one of the most popular days of the year to do it. Let’s take that spirit and spread it across the other 300 or so days of the year and see what goodness we can truly bring in the lives of others.
Interested in volunteering in your community? Here are three places that can help you find a space to volunteer if you aren’t affiliated with a church or organization that regularly volunteers:
Did you volunteer this past Thanksgiving? Share your story in the comment section!