From Donating to Celebrating Virtually: Ways to Give Thanks and Celebrate Community This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving will most certainly look different this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As the epidemic worsens and the number of cases in the United States continue to climb, the CDC is recommending that people only celebrate with those in their immediate household. For many of us, this means that our annual plans – complete with family visiting from out of town, crowded "turkey trots" and conversations around the table – will turn into a much more intimate in-person gathering with some virtual elements.

But just because we cannot gather as we did last year, it doesn't mean that we can't find meaningful ways to give thanks this year, to essential workers, people in your community and our family and friends.

Find a way to give back to your community.

Though opportunities to give back may not look like they did last Thanksgiving, there is still opportunity for you to do good. Find your local food bank and either donate money or supplies. Because of COVID-19, some food banks may not be accepting physical donations or in-person volunteers, so make sure that you consult your local food bank to find out how you can best help.

  • Volunteer to go grocery shopping for a neighbor or friend who may be at-risk or elderly.
  • Find a local food kitchen or shelter that may need your help this year. You can search for your local shelter here, a local food bank here, or a local food pantry here.
  • Find a Meals on Wheels near you and sign up to volunteer.
  • Write down five people you know who could use some help during the holiday. Examples could be an essential worker in your community, a friend who just had a baby, a neighbor who can't get out to the store, your niece or nephew who's struggling with online learning. Now do something kind for each of them! It's that simple. At the holidays, people just want to be seen and cared for, and a little goes a long way.

Give to a charity of your choice this Thanksgiving.

Giving back is one way to show your thankfulness this Thanksgiving! Show your appreciation by donating to a charity of your choosing. To get you started, we've rounded up a few that have been fighting the spread of COVID-19 and providing food and supplies to those in need:

  • Feeding America
  • The Okra Project
  • No Kid Hungry
  • Meals on Wheels 
  • National Black Food and Justice Alliance
  • The World Health Organization
  • Doctors Without Borders 
  • The Red Cross
  • World Central Kitchen
  • Relief International
  • UNICEF

Support your essential workers and first responders.

The easiest way to support essential workers is to stay home and limit your holiday celebration to those in your immediate household, but here are a few other ideas of supporting essential workers during the holiday.

  • Donate a meal. Contact your local hospital, doctor's office, fire station, police station or even grocery store and ask if they are accepting meal donations for their workers. It's as simple as ordering food and having it delivered to those who have been working hard so that we can stay healthy. (Many organizations were dedicated to doing just that at the beginning of the pandemic – here's a list to get you started.)
  • If you know an essential worker, send a meal to their family. If someone you know is an essential worker, make life just a little easier by sending them dinner or lunch one night during Thanksgiving week. Find a local restaurant that delivers, or send a gift card for a service like Grubhub or Postmates.
  • Make a sign for your window or front yard. Get the family involved in creating signage for essential workers who are taking the tough holiday shifts. You never know who might see it on their way to and from work.
  • Leave pre-packaged snacks, drinks or even toilet paper on your porch for your delivery workers. They're working hard to get you your mail and fill your Black Friday orders. Don't forget to leave out some hand sanitizer!

Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while.

The holidays can be a particularly lonely time, and eliminating travel has only exacerbated those feelings. Help alleviate it by reaching out to someone who you haven't spoken to in a while and catch up. Text or shoot an email of a happy memory or a funny photo of the two of you. Randomly send them a gift card to a coffee shop or restaurant!

And make a point to call older people in your life who are particularly at risk for coronavirus and who have been isolated for more than half a year now. You can even make it easier for grandparents to participate in video calls and receiving texts or emails by setting them up with a service like Grandpad, a tablet designed just for seniors.

Set up a Thanksgiving Zoom session with your loved ones who can’t celebrate with you this year.

Zoom fatigue is real, but this is a great way to bridge the miles and make people celebrating alone feel included. You can set a start and end time to avoid awkwardness, suggest everyone bring a similar dish or drink to feel connected, and try some of these conversation starters to keep conversation flowing.

  • What is one moment this year that made you feel thankful?
  • Name one thing in the room you're sitting in that you couldn't live without and why.
  • Where is the first place you'll travel when we're allowed to again?
  • If you could invite anyone to this Zoom call, who would it be?
  • What is your perfect Saturday?
  • Who was your very first pop-culture crush?
  • What would be your walk-up song in baseball?
  • Name three things about yourself that we wouldn't know from looking at you.
  • What has been the one thing you’ve done in quarantine that you normally would not have had the time to do?
  • What is your Real Housewives tagline?
  • What show are you currently binge-watching?
  • What was your most bizarre quarantine purchase?

If you're having trouble coming up with questions, We're Not Really Strangers is a card game that is all about creating conversation. And don't forget that this is also an opportune time to draw names for Secret Santa or holiday gift giving!

Encourage everyone in your home to write loved ones notes to be mailed after the celebration.

Put cards, envelopes and stamps at everyone's place setting and encourage them to think of one person who couldn't be there that they are thankful for. Then, spend some time writing them notes and decorating their cards to be mailed the following day!

You can still celebrate Friendsgiving, just do it virtually!

Because our friend groups are not usually within our immediate households, it may seem like Friendsgiving potlucks are off the table. But rethinking the traditional gathering could be fun: You can hire someone give you all a virtual cocktail or cooking class, or even send out the supply list for a crafting hour on Zoom a week ahead of time.

Other (somewhat sillier) options include:

  • Virtual karaoke. Yes, you can still embarrass yourself singing Celine Dion, but you can do it in the comfort of your own home.
  • Have a Powerpoint party. Everyone brings in a prepared presentation on the topic of their choosing. Those topics can range from "Is A Hot Dog a Sandwich: An Investigation" or "Who Is the Hottest Chris in Hollywood?" The sillier the better. Simply share your screen and share your thoughts.
  • Virtual Charades or Pictionary. They're classics for a reason.
  • Play a Jackbox Game. This Party Pack even includes a Thanksgiving-themed episode. You can play with up to eight people and up to 1,000 (if you have 1,000 friends, we are impressed) audience members.
  • Plan a joint watch of a Thanksgiving sitcom episode: Cue up one of these classics (or any of the Friends ones) and have a watch party, where you all talk through it just like you would if you could be in the same room.

Most importantly, remember that we don't have to be together physically in order to be thankful for one another. Happy Thanksgiving.

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