Where to Volunteer on Thanksgiving

From food and homelessness to the environment and pets, there’s a special cause that needs your help

It’s almost that time of year when we all sit down and say what we’re thankful for before gorging ourselves on a massive turkey feast. Well, friends, actions speak louder than words, which is why donating some of your time to the community is a decidedly more meaningful expression of gratitude. From local food drives and meal delivery services to footraces for a cause like turkey trots, here’s where to volunteer on Thanksgiving. Read on so you can give thanks by giving back.

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How to Find Volunteer Opportunities in Your Community

Our ideas for where to volunteer on Thanksgiving mostly include charitable initiatives that operate across the country, so you might have to do a little research to find opportunities in your own neck of the woods. Apart from the major nationwide programs, your best bet is to talk to community leaders, check out local social media profiles, bulletin boards and listservs and keep your ear to the ground. After all, much volunteer work is done at a local level and opportunities to help a neighbor are particularly rewarding, too.

1. Volunteer at a Feeding America Food Bank

Feeding America is a massive nationwide network of programs established to fight hunger in all 50 states. The organization provides much-needed relief to families and individuals experiencing food insecurity through its summer meal programs, senior meal programs, soup kitchens, mobile pantries, school pantries and more. Given the scope and size of the network, it should come as no surprise that there’s always work to be done at the food banks. Still, we suggest calling up the nearest location before you show up ready to give back, since the wave of volunteer interest that occurs over the holidays can overwhelm facilities (in which case they’ll likely tell you they prefer food donations).

2. Deliver for Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a long-running nonprofit that operates all across the country, delivering hot, nutritious meals and equally warm and wholesome greetings to seniors. The organization is always looking for new volunteers to pick up meals at a central location, deliver them to the homes of seniors and hang around for just long enough to check in with a quick conversation. Best of all, the schedule is flexible, so you can help out as much or as little as you wish, and many of the volunteer opportunities are designed to be done on your own lunch break (if you wish). That said, volunteering needs vary from program to program so be sure to contact your local chapter for more info.

3. Help Out at a Local Soup Kitchen

Another way to help the homeless and food insecure is by volunteering at a soup kitchen. There may or may not be a need for extra help serving the food since you likely won’t be the first in your community to feel suddenly inspired to give back during the holiday season. Nevertheless, we recommend contacting a local soup kitchen to find out if they are accepting in-kind donations (all signs point to yes) and give them your contact information should they find themselves short-staffed. You can find a complete nationwide directory of soup kitchens here.

4. Clean Up a Public Park

You don’t need to find volunteer work through an official organization to make a difference. If you can’t figure out where to volunteer on Thanksgiving, just grab some contractor-size trash bags and a large group of friends for a day spent cleaning up some of the prized public places in your area. It’s good for the environment and a meaningful service to the community—you know, because nothing feels less festive than a park full of litter.

5. Pack Meals for Feed My Starving Children

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) is yet another organization seeking to bring food to those most in need—but in this case, the effort is global. FSMC has reservation-only volunteer opportunities that allow individuals to help pack meals solo or with a hand-selected group of friends at one of their permanent packing sites (located in Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas) or at one of their MobilePack events, which pop up throughout the country. As for the meals, those are delivered directly to underfed communities around the globe that have been ravaged by poverty, war and natural disasters.

6. Volunteer with the Salvation Army

The Salvation Army—an international charitable organization with a presence in all 50 states—supports a wide range of causes including job training and aid for veterans, domestic abuse survivors, trafficking victims and the homeless, as well as services for the poor. They’re also pretty big on the holiday giving scene (look for the person ringing a red bell) and volunteer opportunities on that and other fronts abound, though they vary between locations.

7. Be a Goodwill Volunteer

Goodwill is an organization that you’re likely familiar with because of its many used clothing stores. However, you might not have known that Goodwill is also a leading nonprofit provider of workforce-related services and education, including job training and employment placement programs for underserved communities. The organization relies on pro bono professional volunteers to provide these services, and anyone interested in giving back to the community by sharing their knowledge can inquire into where to volunteer on Thanksgiving at their local Goodwill store.

8. Help Out at a Local Animal Shelter

From walking dogs to cuddling kittens, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities to be found at animal shelters and animal rescues across the country. Call around to the organizations in your area and find out how you can help. (Psst: If you live in NYC, LA, Houston or Atlanta, Best Friends Animal Society is a good place to start.)

9. Run in a Turkey Trot

Give back while burning off those extra holiday calories by participating in a turkey trot—a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition that involves running a long distance footrace (usually a 5K). Not only are turkey trots an excellent way to bond with friends and family, but this community event is also typically held in partnership with charitable organizations, so you’ll be running for a good cause (and we’re not talking about your waistline).

where-to-volunteer-on-thanksgiving: three people exchanging gift boxes filled with toys.
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10. Sign Up for Gift-a-Family

Families First is the charitable organization behind the popular Gift-a-Family program—an initiative in which volunteers can sign up to sponsor a family in need and then purchase items from their holiday wishlist. Sign-ups have not yet begun for the 2023 holiday season, but family information is expected to become available during the first week of November, so be sure to check the website frequently to secure a sponsor position. And if you don’t manage to assign yourself to a family in time, there are plenty of other resources and opportunities available on the site, including year-round volunteer jobs, as well as information on organizing toy drives in your own community.

where to volunteer on thanksgiving grocery shopping
RealPeopleGroup/Getty Images

11. Do Volunteer Grocery Shopping

Volunteer errand runners and grocery shoppers are a huge help to the elderly and disabled at any time of year, and a quick Google search will direct you to numerous organizations in communities all over the country that facilitate this service. You can also offer help to neighbors in need who you encounter day-to-day or visit any senior care center or retirement home near you and inquire into providing free shopping assistance to residents.

12. Donate a Feast to Military Families

If you’re short on time and prefer to donate money, check out Giving Thanks to Heroes—a holiday campaign run by Homefront America, in which cash donations are used specifically to supply military families in need with a full complement of groceries, a pumpkin pie and a turkey voucher that can be redeemed at any number of convenient grocery locations. Whether it’s due to financial strain or simply the stress of planning a Thanksgiving feast when your better half has been deployed, this program does a lot to ensure joyful festivities for our country’s very deserving patriots.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...