Giving As Thanks

I love the Thanksgiving holiday weekend as much as anyone. It’s great to have family visit and take some time to talk and visit and just be together. There’s the added bonus that comes from a warm glow of nostalgia lingering from long-ago Thanksgiving dinners at Nana and Grampa’s.

Hopefully, Laura and I are creating similar memories for our boys and their families. I sense we might be each time I hear our sons expand the legend of my wife’s amazing sweet potato pie. But while I enjoy the turkey and all that goes with it, I can’t shake a nagging sense that we’re missing something in our national celebration.

In earlier times, a feast was a true celebration in and of itself, simply because food was not always plentiful. Today, for many of us, it’s a day we overindulge a bit — beyond the amount we overeat the rest of the year. For the overwhelming majority of Americans today, our battles are with expanding waistlines rather than empty stomachs.

And that brings me to my core discomfort with Thanksgiving. Despite the unprecedented affluence enjoyed by 21st-century America, there are still people in our country who go to bed hungry at night. It happens on Thanksgiving and 364 other days every year. The numbers of hungry Americans are not huge, considering that we are a nation of more than 300 million people, but the fact that anybody is forced to go hungry in this way should give us pause while we’re reaching for our second helpings.

It seems to me that the best way we could truly give thanks for an overabundance of food is to do all we can to feed those who are less fortunate.

That’s why my heroes on Thanksgiving are people like Marilyn Schlossbach, a restaurant owner in Asbury Park, N.J. Marilyn celebrates Thanksgiving by opening her restaurant and providing a bountiful meal to “anyone in need of a free hot meal or the company of the community.” She’s been doing it for nine years and feeds hundreds of people every year. She also opens her Langosta Lounge to those in need on Christmas and Easter.

My local church provides a similar meal, staffed by volunteers and funded by the congregation. This year, we had so many people willing to pitch in that volunteers were turned away. With so much interest in serving others, there is talk of expanding the holiday meal event to a more regular occurrence.

There are countless such efforts across the nation during the holiday season — this year and every year. As wonderful as it is to spend time with family, there is something special about actually serving a meal to those in need. Those who are served appreciate the feast and the conversation in ways that most of us cannot even imagine.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition in our nation. It’s great to spend quality time with family and friends. We should enjoy the meals and the football and the long weekend. But we can make it even better by making it more than the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. It’s fine to buy gifts for those who will also buy gifts for us. But to truly give thanks, give to those who have nothing to offer in return.

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