7 Ways to Give Back This Thanksgiving

We found safe and meaningful ways to give back.

November 05, 2020

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Photo by: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Justin Sullivan/Getty

For most families, Thanksgiving is bound to look a little different this year, but one thing doesn’t have to change because of the pandemic: the spirit of giving. If you want to make a difference this holiday season, there are plenty of ways you can help that are socially distant and safer for everyone. Before deciding which activity is right for you, consider your own health and the health of those you’re in regular contact with, particularly household members and anyone you plan to visit over the upcoming holiday season.

“I would recommend that those at high-risk for severe COVID-19 avoid volunteering if they would be required to be around a lot of other people,” says Dr. Karen Krueger, MD, infectious disease specialist and instructor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine. “I would also say healthy individuals should avoid it if they live or have a lot of interaction with someone who is high-risk.”

Who is most vulnerable? “Age and medical illnesses like diabetes and heart disease seem to be the biggest risk factors,” says Dr. Beth K. Thielen, MD, PhD, an expert in respiratory viral infections and professor at the University of Minnesota. Pregnant women, smokers, immunocompromised persons and those affected by cancer, lung disease, kidney disease and obesity should also consider giving back in a way that isn’t face-to-face.

With those considerations in mind, here are some of the best ways to give back this Thanksgiving.


Photo by: Boston Globe/Getty

Boston Globe/Getty

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen

Many local food banks and soup kitchens are still open — and they’re still looking for volunteers. But before signing up, make sure you check their policies around pandemic precautions. All volunteers and those you’re serving should be required to mask up whenever they’re not eating, hand sanitizer and/or soap should be readily available to use prior to and after each interaction, and everybody should be screened for obvious COVID-19 symptoms such as a high temperature or cough.

Ideally, look for volunteer opportunities that will occur in larger, well-ventilated areas with plans to limit or stagger the entrances of clients. “It should also be possible to space out the food service and eating areas to lower the risk of transmission to volunteers,” says Thielen. In warmer cities, some food banks and kitchens may even move their services outside, where the risk of transmission is lower due to the constant circulation of fresh air.

If you’re still on the fence, clarify exactly what you’ll be tasked with doing. Not all jobs carry the same amount of risk, according to Thielen. “Will you be setting up food on a table? Or personally serving hundreds of people face-to-face?”

Regardless, this is an activity that you should likely not participate in if you or someone you are in contact with is considered high-risk.


Photo by: Joe Raedle/Getty

Joe Raedle/Getty

Donate to a Community Fridge

If volunteering in-person isn’t for you, look into donations. Food insecurity is still a concern for many across the country. Consider donating to a local community fridge to serve those in need in your own neighborhood.

Go Grocery Shopping (Safely)

You’re probably going to be spending a lot of time grocery shopping in the next few weeks — why not shop for someone other than yourself? Shopping Angels helps deliver groceries to elderly and immunocompromised people who are especially at-risk of contracting COVID-19. You can volunteer, donate or even start a local branch. These services will be appreciated more than ever as grocery stores become crowded in the pre-holiday rush.

Prefer getting your groceries online? You can donate to Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks through their digital Gift Catalog. Gift the dollar amount for food staples like chicken, apples and peanut butter and the donation will be used to deliver meals across the country.

Photo by: @womenshealthmag/Instagram


Participate in a Digital Turkey Trot

IRL turkey trots might be canceled for the most part, but Women’s Health and Men’s Health first virtual turkey trot is taking place on Thanksgiving Day to raise funds and awareness for hunger relief in America.

To join the free, nationwide 5K race, all you have to do is register here. Participants can start anytime on November 26, 2020 and make donations to Feeding America via the same platform. The first 500 registrants will receive a special “Race in a Box” kit to commemorate the event, including a hat and finisher’s medal, and can download and print a race bib to wear on the big day.

Let Your Loved Ones Know You’re Thinking of Them

A lot of Thanksgiving gatherings are likely to be smaller this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your family and friends some love from afar — and give back at the same time. Consider sending a classic Thanksgiving treat like a fresh baked pie. You can’t go wrong with country apple, pecan and pumpkin. Order from Bake Me a Wish and 5% of purchases go toward the Bake Me A Wish! Business Empowerment Fund to help small businesses affected by COVID-19.

Fresh flowers are another great option for someone who wants to liven up their table. Now through December 24, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, Inc. is donating 20% of the net proceeds* from each gift purchased from the Season of Sharing gift collection to No Kid Hungry, with a minimum commitment of $50,000.

Send your gift along with a thoughtful note on Minted’s whimsical new stationery collection, Notes of Gratitude. A portion of every sale benefits Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization that supports local communities, front line workers and the restaurant industry.

Shop Online

With major retailers closing their doors or offering limited hours this Black Friday, remember that you can still give back while you shop online for holiday gifts. When you check out online with one of the millions of retailers that accept PayPal, look for the option to donate $1 to charity before completing your purchase. These microdonations add up — shoppers have donated over $350K at checkout to support COVID-19 relief efforts this year alone. You can also set your favorite charity in your PayPal profile.

Popular brands are getting into the giving spirit, too. For each Silicone and Wood Utensil set (including a spoon, slotted spatula and pasta spoon) sold, Pampered Chef will donate at least 10 meals to Feeding America. Pampered Chef also encourages customers shopping online to round up their orders to the nearest dollar or more.

Meanwhile, Crate & Barrel is debuting an adorable collection of porcelain ornaments featuring our favorite pasta shapes like ravioli and cavatappi. $10 of each sale will go to Feeding America.


Photo by: Shannon O'Hara/Getty

Shannon O'Hara/Getty

Take a Break from the Kitchen

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner takes a lot out of you, so there’s no shame in grabbing takeout the next day (or the day after that).

Pizza Hut, a longtime partner of First Book, a nonprofit that aims to remove barriers to quality education for all kids, has launched a new menu item available in many stores across the country. Called the First Book Bundle, this meal deal consists of two large three-topping pizzas and an order of breadsticks. $1 of every purchase is donated to First Book.

McAlister’s Deli is also giving back to local communities this November. Stop by between November 1 and November 30 and McAlister’s Deli will donate 10 cents for every soup sold, with a minimum donation of $100K to Meals on Wheels. Guests can order online, via the mobile app, or in-restaurant, but third-party delivery services are excluded.

*Net proceeds shall be defined as the gross sales price of the product less any and all taxes, service charges, shipping and handling charges, discounts, gift certificates, promotional gift certificates, promotional offers (e.g. airlines miles, points, e-money, etc.) credits, rebates, chargebacks, refunds, credit card processing fees and gift certificate cancellations.

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