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Thanksgiving Prompts Americans To Help Communities

Thanksgiving Prompts Americans To Help Their Communities

On Thanksgiving Day, when most Americans enjoy a holiday meal with friends and family and give thanks for the good things in their lives, many also take time to prepare and serve meals to the needy. Others donate to food drives, work at food warehouses or deliver groceries to soup kitchens, churches and other charitable groups.

"As we count our many blessings, I encourage all Americans to show their thanks by giving back," President Bush said November 19 during a speech at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia, where in 1619 English settlers offered up thanks for their safe passage across the Atlantic.

Bush took note of Berkeley Plantation's claim to be the site of America's first Thanksgiving, but he added -- to laughter from the crowd -- that "this version of events is not very popular up north." Both the Berkeley Plantation and the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts lay claim to the first official Thanksgiving.

"I've come to honor Berkeley's history -- and to continue the great American tradition of giving thanks," the president said diplomatically.

Earlier in the day, Bush spent time helping volunteers pack boxes of groceries at the Central Virginia Foodbank in Richmond, Virginia. The food bank provides donated food to more than 500 charitable agencies in central Virginia that prepare thousands of meals for the poor each day.

At Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, many Americans make a special effort to volunteer at shelters, churches, food banks and other charitable organizations.

For example, in Santa Monica , California, people donate uncooked turkeys or volunteer their ovens to roast a turkey the night before Thanksgiving. In 2006, some 300 turkeys were transformed into more than 2,100 hot meals for the needy and distributed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Blankets and clothing also were distributed, and free haircuts were available for people who wanted them.

In St. Mary's County, Maryland, the local government has sponsored a charity golf day on Thanksgiving for the past seven years, when golfers donate bags of nonperishable food and household items for a local food bank. In 2006, more than 2,000 items were collected.

And The Woodlands High School basketball teams in The Woodlands, Texas, are holding a pre-Thanksgiving food drive where the teams compete to see who can bring in the most food, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Montana Food Bank Network Executive Director Peggy Grimes directs volunteers at a food distribution event. (Montana Food Bank Network)Peggy Grimes, executive director of the Montana Food Bank Network in Missoula, Montana, which provides food to 189 charitable agencies throughout the state, says volunteers and food donations especially are needed during Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season.

The food bank will distribute 20 percent more food this holiday season than in 2006 -- in part because the rising cost of gasoline eats away at people's disposable income, Grimes said. "We're seeing more people coming through the emergency food system, especially with this hike in gas prices."

"The amount of food going out this year is just amazing," she told USINFO. "Our donations for the holiday season are up as well. Normally, we might get a few hundred turkeys, and this year we've already gotten 400."

The Montana Food Bank Network is partner of America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest charitable hunger relief organization. (See related article.)

Each day, about 20 to 25 volunteers work for the Montana food bank. "We have a huge group of college students coming tomorrow to help us sort food and get our orders ready," Grimes said. Secondary school and grade school students often help too, she added, as well as senior citizens, church groups and individuals.

People who want to actually serve meals or distribute food baskets are directed to charitable groups that do that, Grimes said. For a soup kitchen that is serving a big meal at Thanksgiving, "you need so many more volunteers," she said.

"Each year, I notice that there are more and more people who say, 'We can put off our [Thanksgiving] dinner, we can have it the next day or take out a two-hour block of time and go volunteer,'" Grimes said. "The whole family will do it and then go home and have their meal."

Grimes said the food bank is so busy during the holiday season that she puts aside her work as executive director and is "out there helping to put these pallets of food together myself. I get to join in. I love that."


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