Thanksgiving takeaway

The day before Thanksgiving, I saw an article about a “Turkey Operation” here in Austin, Texas. The organization was calling for volunteers to help serve and pack meals for those not fortunate enough to already be looking forward to that wonderful Thanksgiving dinner that I enjoy so much. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry jelly, peas and carrots, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie … and that’s just the beginning!

The next morning, a girlfriend and I headed out bright and early to volunteer. We arrived at a large restaurant and immediately saw the throngs of fellow volunteers. There was a long line of cars backed up to turn into the full parking lot, and what seemed to be hundreds of people were standing outside the restaurant awaiting instructions. I hadn’t expected that.

As it turned out, there were over 1,500 volunteers on site, and it was a small challenge just to find everyone some work to do, but the organizers—all volunteers themselves—did a good job delegating tasks. There were teams deboning turkeys, mashing potatoes, handling every aspect of the Thanksgiving meal, plus organizing donated clothes and coats. Kids drew pictures on the Styrofoam meal boxes, adding a cheery and personal touch. I ended up leading the “pie” team.

By midmorning, with the many pies cut and serving well underway, I joined the long line of people boxing the dinner meals. Each volunteer would take one empty box, walk it through the various serving stations, close it up, and drop it off for the delivery team. I was standing in line for quite a while, so I struck up a conversation with a woman behind me. It was one of those immediate connections, and we ended up spending the next hour or more talking about our lives, travels, and families.

Within a few hours, a few thousand meals had been prepared, served, and boxed, and volunteer drivers whisked them away to be passed out to those in need. There was music in the air, a lot of enthusiasm, and a great sense of camaraderie. After cleanup, people gradually headed home, and so did we.

Driving home, my friend and I swapped stories about how it had gone for each of us. We passed a group of homeless men off the freeway, and spotted Thanksgiving dinner boxes by their sides. We talked about the people we had worked alongside—the fireman, the woman who hosted benefit events professionally who was helping things run more smoothly, the obviously well-to-do older couples, the catering professional making sure the volunteers wore hair nets, and so on. There were people from all walks of life, young to old, rich and poor—all there to give several hours of time on their day off in celebration of our many blessings.

The next day someone asked me how the volunteer experience was, and the highlight that came to mind was meeting the woman in the serving line. I’m glad I didn’t miss that, but I have to say I easily could have. You see, I was feeling a little out of place in that line. Some people were volunteering with their family or a group of friends, chatting away, but I didn’t know anyone standing around me. I don’t know why I sometimes forget that others are just like me. Sometimes it can feel like everyone else has their act together, is 100% happy, problem-free, has their life all figured out, and their friendship fold is full up. I was reminded that day how untrue that usually is, and how everyone (or at least, most everyone) is looking for others to interact with, to befriend, and to potentially connect with on a deep level.

My takeaway from this Thanksgiving was a reminder to just take a step. To reach out. To open the conversation. To give Jesus a chance to put someone in my path who needs a friend, and who perhaps, in time, I can share my faith with. If I do what I can—make some effort, take some action—however small, I can trust Him to keep me in a place of usefulness, regardless of my personal limitations.

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Before you begin, put on a strong stain-proof apron to protect against the drips of bitterness and the sourness of life. In a bowl of resilient material, able to withstand blows, falls, and chipping, mix the following ingredients:

—2 heaping spoons of gratitude
—1 ½ spoons of satisfaction
—A dollop of generosity
—3 drops of concentrated optimism syrup
—A wedge of sunny smile
—A seed of faith
—A cup of Joy Elixir

Season with a generous dose of good humor.

Blend all the ingredients together with enthusiasm, and serve on a wide and joyous table, big enough to share with all you meet.