It took Sarah Josepha Hale, the same woman who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” 36 years of campaigning to get Thanksgiving made into a national holiday, which President Abraham Lincoln did in 1863. Now, people all across the country celebrate the pilgrims’ bountiful 1621 harvest, eating an average of 51 million turkeys each Thanksgiving. It’s such a popular national holiday that the U.S. spends about $2.375 billion on Thanksgiving dinner food, which averages out to about $54.18 per household. Over the entire holiday weekend, an average U.S. household will spend about $302.
Unfortunately, however, not everyone gets to celebrate. One in eight people in Vermont actually struggles with hunger; others may be forced during colder months to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes, since heating costs can amount to as much as 50 percent of household energy costs.
How can you help?
“Volunteering is always a good thing,” says Jennifer Yakunovich, service director of the Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter. “Sometimes, particularly for non-profit organizations, money is limited, and resources are limited. Even just a few hours a week are incredibly helpful.”
A donation of time is one of the simplest and most valuable donations a person can make, and it doesn’t even have to be spent working. Simply spending time with people who are alone on the holiday can be enough to help.
“Visit a nursing home, or a veteran’s home, or give someone some company,” suggests Chris Morgan, executive director of the Dodge House. “Invite someone to dinner that you know would otherwise spend some time alone. Maybe there’s someone in your community or neighborhood who would otherwise spend Thanksgiving alone. Including people that are less fortunate in our blessings makes a big difference.”
Because many people decide to offer their time during the holidays, however, Yakunovich advises anyone considering volunteering at a service to “make a phone call ahead of time if you’re looking to help an organization.”
Calling a service ahead of time is also a good idea, she notes, for anyone looking to make a donation of food and clothing. This way, people can learn what particular items are needed by the organization. The Rutland County Women’s Network and Shelter, for example, can always use paper goods and toiletries.
Material donations may actually be the preferable option this year, as some charities aren’t getting as many donations as they need. For the first time in over 10 years, no one donated turkeys in early November to the Open Door Mission, one of Rutland’s only homeless shelters.
They are starting to get some now, but Tammy Duclos, the Open Door Mission’s assistant director and director of veteran affairs, explains that it’s not enough. Turkey is one of the main ways they provide protein in their everyday meals, so they’ve had to use turkeys that would normally be cooked for Thanksgiving to provide the people staying there — over 80 percent of whom are veterans — with a hot meal.
Monetary donations are another great way to help out, too. As Yakunovich explains, “Non-profits are always searching for more money. Demands on social services are always high, particularly around this time of year. A check of any amount — big or small — is always helpful.”
And of course, one of the simplest — and most important — donations one can make is the gift of inclusion.
As Morgan explains, including those who’d otherwise spend the holiday alone “kind of reminds me what the holiday is about. I’m grateful I’m here. It gives folks a sense of community, rather than being shut in by themselves. Not all people are into the holidays. Some of them would just let them go by unnoticed. When they’re included, they might feel differently about it.”