How your family can serve this Thanksgiving

ThanksgivingServeWBy Katie Riley

During the Thanksgiving season, many families will count their blessings by volunteering their time and effort to help those in need.

The Bush family in Ellicott City is one of those families. Two years ago, Laura Bush of Ellicott City decided to involve her kids, Eric, 8, and Emma, 10, in the volunteer work she had been doing for years on her own.

"I wondered if my son was too young to understand the impact of volunteering, but I was amazed that he could help in a tangible way," she says. "He definitely understood who he was affecting and how he was making a difference."

Recently she watched with pride as Eric happily prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless.

"I wanted them to understand that the world is a big place," she says. "It's one thing for me to tell them about it, but it's another thing for them to see it with their own eyes."

Now the whole family volunteers for the United Way. They pack toiletry kits for the homeless and participate in meal preparation activities at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore. It's a lesson that has been more powerful than she could have imagined.

"They love doing it, and it's definitely brought home a message of gratitude for our family," Bush says.

Whether it is through meal preparation, food donations or working one-on-one with the less fortunate, there are many ways to instill an attitude of gratitude in your family. Here are some ways your family can help during the holidays. (Here's an updated list of ways to help in 2015.)

Assemble meals through The United Way

Through the United Way of Central Maryland, families can help assemble and distribute complete Thanksgiving meals for the needy at ThanksgivingServe2Wdozens of convenient locations throughout the state.

Each year, the United Way donates more than 3,000 complete Thanksgiving dinners to families in need, and many local churches and community centers help with this process. Families can find a place to help through the United Way.

The United Way also hosts monthly events year-round, like the Harvest Helpers program where volunteers of all ages help harvest crops at local farms and gardens to feed families in need.

Check out their upcoming event, Harvest Helpers: Garden Clean Up, on Nov. 15 at the Howard County Community Garden in Columbia, when families can help prepare the garden for next year's bounty.

410-547-8000, uwcm.org

Cater to the homeless at Our Daily Bread

At Our Daily Bread in Baltimore, families with children 14 and older are invited to help serve breakfast and lunch every day of the year. Although Thanksgiving Day is always popular for families wanting to volunteer, the need is great throughout the year.

"We are always taking volunteers. People are hungry 365 days a year," says Kim Kahl, volunteer manager.

Our Daily Bread also has a casserole donation program where families can prepare and deliver casseroles that are served to the hungry. The organization's website offers recipes, suggestions and preparation guidelines so families can prepare food in advance.

"Preparing and delivering the food to us is a great way for families with children of all ages to participate," Kahl says.

Our Daily Bread also sponsors a Stone Soup volunteer program in conjunction with the United Way, where families with kids of all ages can spend an entire day preparing mass quantities of food at the kitchen's headquarters in Baltimore City. The event fills up quickly and is held each spring and fall. The next Stone Soup is Nov. 22.

443-986-9031, catholiccharities-md.org/our-daily-bread

Visit the homebound through Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels, an organization that provides meals to homebound seniors and disabled individuals, needs volunteers to help deliver meals. Meals usually are delivered daily between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and volunteers can serve once a week, once a month or whenever they can.

Terry Lehr of Baltimore began delivering meals with her 4-year-old grandson 10 years ago. Today she is a regional manager for Meals on Wheels and her grandson is still volunteering.

"I believe this kind of work can inspire a younger generation," she says. "The clients love it, too. They really enjoy having a young person visit when they receive their food. Many clients have even become 'adopted grandparents.'"

Moms for Meals is a program designed to encourage parents to volunteer with their children as a driver/visitor team to develop a personal relationship with their recipients.

Grocery shoppers are also needed to buy food for homebound individuals.

410-558-0827, mealsonwheelsmd.org

Plan family fun at Sarah's House

There is an abundance of volunteer opportunities for families at Sarah's House, a shelter for homeless families located in Fort Meade. Around Thanksgiving, families can donate turkeys and all the dinner makings for the residents in transitional housing so they can prepare a Thanksgiving meal themselves.

Volunteers are also needed to plan activities for the kids living at Sarah's House, such as a bingo, movie night or an afternoon of crafting.

"We encourage families to come help out all year long, by either planning and implementing an activity for the kids or donating to the many needs of our residents," says Bruce Clopein, volunteer resource manager. "At Sarah's House, it's all about families helping families."

410-551-7722, catholiccharities-md.org/sarahs-house

Help stock pantries at Food Link

Help sort, deliver and pack food for more than 100 food programs and agencies by volunteering with Food Link, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the working poor. There are locations in Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties, and families with children of all ages can help with their pantries, food pick-up and delivery programs.

Each year, Food Link delivers more than 2 million pounds of food for families with nowhere else to turn and offers services as well.
"Families in need can visit our pantries and get what they need, no questions asked," says Executive Director Cathy Bird.

Volunteers are needed to sort through food, make food deliveries and coordinate the organization's many pantries, such as the emergency baby pantry that stocks diapers, formula and other necessities. Food Link also operates a unique food rescue effort where volunteers pick up food from retailers and wholesalers for donation to food programs for the needy.

410-897-3941, foodlinkmaryland.org

Assemble a basket for Lighthouse Shelter

Every year on Thanksgiving the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis serves a Thanksgiving meal to homeless individuals. Volunteers ages 14 and older are needed to serve.

Families with younger children are invited to help with the Thanksgiving basket program. Families can donate items or help assemble "baskets" that include full Thanksgiving meals and are distributed to the needy the Monday before Thanksgiving. A list of needed items, along with basket suggestions and guidelines, is on the website.

410-349-5056, annapolislighthouse.org/get-involved

Put on a feast at We Care and Friends

At We Care and Friends, a non-profit organization in Annapolis, there are many ways to help serve at their annual Thanksgiving dinner for 3,000 held the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Executive Director Larry Griffin says families are always welcome to help out in any way they can.

"We need greeters, food delivery people, servers and volunteers to help coordinate the children's activities and entertainment," he says.

Kids can help by passing out cutlery, sodas and other basic items, while parents with older children can help serve food, set up, clean up and deliver food to the homebound who are unable to attend. Held at the Stanton Community Center, the dinner possible through donations from more than 65 restaurants and includes music and kids' entertainment for the needy families in attendance.

410-263-2874, wecareandfriends.org

Harvest for the hungry through Maryland Food Bank

The Maryland Food Bank is always accepting donations of food at their various branch sites. The Eastern Shore branch offers a unique opportunity through its Farm to Food Bank Program where groups of up to 10 people can help harvest fresh produce to feed the hungry throughout the summer and early fall. Volunteer families can also schedule appointments to help load, pack and sort food at a local branch, or help with administrative work or fundraising efforts.

Main office 410-737-8282 or call to find your closest branch, mdfoodbank.org/volunteer

Top photo: The Bush Family helps prepare kids for the homeless as part of the United Way Volunteer Program. Photo courtesy of the United Way.

Click here for more ways to help out this holiday season.