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Giving Thanks by Giving Back

In any given year, but especially this year, food pantries and soup kitchens are essential support systems for people and families in need. This Thanksgiving, create a meaningful experience with your kids about how good it feels to give thanks through sharing and giving back.

New York City is a rough place. Even rougher if you’re unemployed. And a downright jungle if you are homeless.

Every Tuesday night for a couple of years (pre-kids!), I’d leave work and head to a volunteer shift I picked up at the New York Rescue Mission. On the third floor was the women’s shelter -- a large room with a few dozen bunk beds in the center of the room, and plastic chairs around the perimeter. My job was to coordinate and time the showers so that all women could have their turn before the lights went out. Any person could have done this job -- you call names from a clipboard for next up, and shout into the showers a two-minute warning when a bather’s six-minute turn is almost over. This work required no special skill on paper, no Ivy League degree, and no work experience, but I quickly realized I was just the woman for the job.

The key was listening. Occasionally, chatting. And eventually, eating.

It was talking with women who had nowhere else to go -- talking to them as if they were long-lost friends. It was editing resumes for job applications as housekeepers and baristas. It was helping setup FaceTime calls to reach out to some of these women’s children in other shelters. It was mending thrift store wedding dresses in anticipation of a ceremony that may or may not ever happen. It was looking at photos on someone’s phone of family members lost to distance, drugs, or death. It was connecting those in need with attorney friends willing to work pro bono to help them change names or seek divorces from incarcerated or abusive spouses. And, it was sharing meals.

Believe it or not, the meal was the hardest part.