Gravy, Gobblers and Giving
Putting the Giving in Thanksgiving by Volunteering
by Michelle McCormick
For most people, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and friends. College students head home to pig out on mamma’s home cooking. Boyfriends and girlfriends anxiously meet the parents for the first time. Families crowd around the television for the Macy’s parade. Young and old alike snooze on the sofa after eating their share of turkey and dressing. It’s a day that people get close to what they’re thankful for. It’s a day, for most families, when disputes cease, laughter increases, and the reminder of the blessings they have are evident with every waking moment.
But there is another group of people who spend the holidays without their grandma’s pumpkin pie. They have no grandpa to watch football with or family pet to play with. These people are not alone, but they’re family is different than yours and mine. These people are the children who live in a place that provides love in the absence of their natural parents. The Children’s Home in Tampa is their home, and I had the pleasure of going outside of my comfortable family holiday to spend the day cooking, serving, and spreading God’s love to these kids who deserve it just as much as anyone else.
In 2006, I, the girl who can’t cut fruit without cutting her finger, led a group of 25 Hands On Tampa Bay volunteers through Thanksgiving dinner preparation, service, and clean up. I must say it was not only the most exhausting holidays I have experienced but also one of the most meaningful.
The day started bright and early. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as the volunteers strolled in and cooking assignments were distributed, I knew something special was going to happen. While we cooked over a hot stove and warm oven, basting the turkey and stirring the gravy, the children from the home played a football game outside. They were taking advantage of the gorgeous Florida weather and free day from school and work.
They played like siblings and friends. They cheered one another on and eagerly showcased their greatest throws. Some of my volunteers had the chance to hang out and mingle with the kids during the game. Many of them couldn’t stop talking about the incredible bond they had already developed in just a short while.
There was something peaceful about the entire day. Although there were many volunteers who just met for the first time, we quickly became a family of our own. We worked as a team with joyful hearts. No one mentioned much about missing their family dinners or having to push back their usual noon feast to 4 p.m. Our own situations weren’t an issue. We found ways to shift our schedules around to make time to give back and take the focus off ourselves. As a result, we witnessed children from three to 18 get excited for a holiday so many of us take for granted. This Thanksgiving became a holiday to give others something to be thankful for.
When the time came for the kids to eat, they showed up ready to celebrate. Dressed in their Sunday best and with their most sophisticated manners, they ate dinner like the rest of the families in America. They sat at tables together, gabbed about the day and the football game. They teased each other, made jokes, asked for seconds, and enjoyed every minute of it (I’m assuming by the looks on their smiling faces).
I never worried that my day was in vain or that these kids didn’t appreciate the dinner. We didn’t look at them as a charity case, but as extended family in need of extra hands.
That’s exactly what we were.
For just one day, these kids and fellow volunteers became my family. For one day, no one asked about careers, marital status, and personal achievement. Instead, the conversation was focused on things that matter—things like family and why we had signed up to volunteer in the first place.
A very valuable lesson we learn in church is that this world does not revolve around us. There are thousands of unloved and hurting people in this world just waiting for their hearts to be mended by a Savior.
The Lord commanded us to go out into the nations and preach the gospel. We were called to bring others to Christ. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus wasn’t just referring to our words, but to our actions as well.
I was not sent to The Children’s Home to evangelize through words, but through my actions. I was merely a vessel that God used to spread His love to a world in need.
Francis of Assisi said it well, “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary use words.” This is my strategy: reach a world in need as Jesus’ hands and feet.
This year, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ through service, and along the way, you just might recruit a few more. And the best part about volunteering is that you donÕt have to wait for the holidays, it goes with any season.