Evangelization,  Family Life,  Parenting,  toddlers

Thanksgiving acts of service with kids

This is the first year where we’re feeling like we can creep past bare minimum mode – just a single toe over the line, honestly – and attempt to do a little something extra for Thanksgiving.

I’m not hosting or even cooking all that much this year, so no doubt that inflates my sense of wellbeing. If you have a nursing baby who is under 6 months old, are pregnant, are postpartum to any sort of baby at all, have a child with special needs, a husband who works 120 hours a week, etc etc etc, then just stop reading and look away, you’re already maxed out on awesome acts of service.

If you are a mom to older kids and have this thing down already, then won’t you tip your hand and let us freshman have a peek at what you do to help your kids connect with the deeper meaning of this special holiday?

In years past, our friends who live closer to downtown Denver have bundled up early in the morning and brought Starbucks to the homeless people who congregate near the cathedral. I love that idea, but we’re a little far out in the suburbs to execute it. We do have some homeless people around, but no specific concentration where we could seek them out. It’s more like you’ll see someone at an intersection here or there. Our parish food pantry hosted a frozen turkey drive…yesterday. So that’s a miss for us, too.

I conducted a casual poll of mom friends asking for ideas and came away with some good suggestions: bringing treats to homeless people, passing out coffee, delivering donuts or sandwiches, handing out breakfast burritos, going to a park with hand warmers, hats and mittens, assembling blessing bags, etc. to distribute to panhandlers at intersections and freeway on ramps.

Some businesses will donate their products if you ask. A few businesses my friends said they’d had success partnering with:

  • Jimmy Johns: will sell day their day old loaves for $.50 a piece
  • Starbucks: will sometimes donate coffee with advance notice; will provide creamer, sugar, cups and lids at no charge when you order a coffee traveler
  • Dunkin Donuts: will sometimes donate with advance notice
  • Krispy Kreme: will donate day old donuts with advance notice  

I’m guessing many fast casual chains and coffee places would be willing to donate, especially bread places like Panera, etc, where if they don’t sell that day’s offering, they aren’t able to sell it the next morning.

I love the idea of giving food at Thanksgiving, especially since it tends to be a time when we as Americans overdo it in the consumption department. I also think it’s a super relatable way of doing charity with kids. Kids understand being hungry. Kids understand having an empty tummy, and the immediate gratification of someone handing you something good to eat because they love you.

If the idea of serving on Thanksgiving itself is overwhelming, I think taking back Black Friday as a day to serve instead of shop is pretty awesome.

I’d really like to take our kids to a nursing home or retirement community to visit with the residents and provide a little comic relief. I worked at a nursing home while I was in grad school, and it made a lasting impression on me. Most of my residents just wanted someone to talk to, and would light up whenever a child – especially a baby – came onsite. Many lived far from their families and had visitors only once a year, or even less frequently than that. It was so life giving for them to just sit and visit with someone, even if it was only me or one of the other staff members. I will never forget the kind of relational poverty I witnessed there. Now here I sit with a bumper crop of my own children and I’ve yet to make good on my vow to return and visit nursing homes one day when I became a mom. Maybe this year’s the year.

Finally, I don’t want to rule out serving within the home itself. Especially where little kids are involved, I’m forever underestimating what they’re capable of, and they’re forever surprising me with their competence. (Well, and other things. There are other surprises, too.)

Inviting them to set the table, peel potatoes, peel and cut apples for pie, fill a pot with water, use a pitcher to fill water glasses at the dining table, etc are all valuable and super #Montessoriandyouknowwhat ways to let kids participate in and contribute to the family economy, and not just for the holidays.

So I’m all ears guys, what does your family do that has become a tradition? What are you hoping to try out this year? Have you had any memorable flops, like taking toddlers to the soup kitchen and violating food safety standards (ahem Luke cough cough)? Anything you’d do again? Anything you’d advise against, at all costs?


    • Amanda

      Our church does service days twice a year and has a bunch of organizations people carpool to. One year we went bc the shelter said it was for all ages to volunteer , and then got there and they said kids weren’t allowed. They seemed suspicious that we were trying to sneak in to volunteer somehow. Finally they said we should come but of course we spent half the time kid wrangling. Choose somewhere kids can actually help.

  • Ruth Anne

    Growing up we used to get together with another small local church and serve Thanksgiving dinner at the YMCA. (Actually, come to think of it we served dinner there a lot) But I remember especially Thanksgiving, we did it for a number of years, probably from when I was about 12 on, and it felt weird when we finally had Thanksgiving at home, by ourselves.

    I keep thinking I want to try our parish’s meal kitchen with my kids, but they’re only 9 and under so i don’t know if we’re (I’m) ready for that.

    But thank you for the nudge. I think I’m going to look into it, for maybe sometime in the upcoming year.

  • Laura

    I pray the rosary and bring communion every Friday to a nursing home. They love visitors and children! Maybe you can have your kids pray a rosary with them. They would love that!

    • jeanette

      That is a really good suggestion about praying the rosary with the children. A member of my Legion of Mary group from a former parish had a weekly rosary meeting at 2 different facilities, and he would invite several other members to join him to be with these groups. It was very helpful to these elder Catholics to have people pray with them because they are isolated from parish life and frequently have no one else living in their care home who is a Catholic, and often they might even be in a care home that is not in a parish area where they have ever been a member, so you are bringing the face of the parish to them, so to speak. And another reason why it is good is that even if they have prayed the rosary their whole life, it can be difficult to pray the rosary when there are memory issues involved. If you have a little booklet with a “scriptural rosary” the reading of the scripture verse for each Hail Mary can be something children can do as well, if they are readers. Or there are booklets like the Fr. Peyton one that have brief meditations. You can also share the readings for the day. This is really nice to do for those who have vision issues. Be sure to bring along the bulletin for the week and any diocesan newspaper you may have. They also appreciate that as a way of being connected to community. There might be a list of those who are sick in the parish, and you can name those people during the rosary, and in that way, you are helping them to pray for other parishioners.

  • Colleen Martin

    An easy one would be to connect with your local Catholic high school. Ours collects food donations and cooks turkeys and brings it all to a food kitchen that serves about 150 people Thanksgiving dinner. They also make baskets for about 25 families to take home and have a meal at their house. There wouldn’t be much for kids to “do” but you could take them to the grocery store and have them help pick out food for the hungry and then drop it off. It’s easy on moms with little kids since we’re at the store with them anyways 🙂

  • Betsy

    Another easy thing to do at home with kids is to make cards for detained immigrants. There is a local organization in Aurora that is collecting them. They have some pretty rigid requirements (only a few Christmas greetings in English/Spanish are allowed), no stickers, glitter, etc, but otherwise, it takes paper and crayons. Obviously you could go in to as much/little detail about the situation as you want given your family. We did them with my 2nd grade Sunday school and all I said was they were people waiting to come in to the US. They are Christmas/New Year’s cards, but when you think about it, Thanksgiving really is an immigrant holiday. Let me know if you want more info.

  • Christina

    We like to go buy stamps and Christmas cards and give them to our restorative justice (prison) ministry. They say that the inmates have literally nothing to give their families during the holidays because they are incarcerated, but it’s really good for them to nurture those relationships, and having cards to send to their family members helps foster the healthy relationships in their lives and give them a sense of giving when they have so little to give. I haven’t taken the kids to the prison, but we go shopping together and talk about what and why we’re doing.

  • jeanette

    My daughter used to make crafts and then sell them and donate the money to a charity. This was her idea without any prompting on my part. She was only about 8 years old and she was very serious about it. So, instead of just coming up with ideas, sometimes your kids might be able to come up with ideas of their own.

    Another thing to remember is that rather than doing something special because it is Thanksgiving, people are needy year round, and are less likely to have people caring about them on an ordinary Tuesday in a cold February than on Thanskgiving or Christmas. So, maybe instead of doing something just because it is the holiday season when you might already be overbooked, use the time to pray together about a service project you might want to do after the first of the year, and then be sure to follow through and do it. It gives the kids that longer sense of anticipation and they will be more likely to invest themselves into it than if it is just sandwiched in with all of the other holiday whirlwind of activity. And it will reinforce that Christian charity is supposed to happen year round.

  • Kathleen

    I was just talking to my sister about this! In a large family and the older kids have a lot of opportunity to serve others in the home… Helping with change the baby or entertaining an unstable toddler. The only thing that I do consistently is bake an extra turkey and drop it off at the KofC thanksgiving for the homeless meal. I have the kids help or at least watch as we prep the Turkey. But to actually serve the meal is a bit beyond us RN. For years, we’ve sponsored a child with Unbound.org and my kids write back and forth with her abd learn first hand about real hardship from her letters. We’ve had the same girl from Kenya for 5-6 years. I have a dream that some day she can come visit us!

  • KaLynn

    I also participated in a packing event for Feed my Starving Children last year and if there is one close to you, try to go! It is really great for kids of all ages to participate. The easiest task was to put stickers on empty bags to designate the expiration date of the meal.

    Our church does a New Year’s Day meal and there are 2 carts, one with applesauce cups and another with sliced desserts. A parent usually pushes the cart. The people eating point to a dessert and then the child hands them the plate.

    If you’re on the fence about an event, I would totally reach out the organizer! Your heart is in the right place and I’m sure they could be honest about what your kids could help with.

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