Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen on Thanksgiving or Christmas — and When to Sign Up Instead

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The holidays are right around the corner, and that means we’re all looking forward to a few of our favorite things. On our to-do list: eating delicious food, attending family get-togethers, and helping those in need.

But we may want to rethink the last item.

Looking around to see how we can give back to the community during Thanksgiving is a priority for many. And because of this, soup kitchens are prime spots for eager volunteers to gather. But those who staff kitchens and food banks year-round now say that others should reevaluate volunteering on Thanksgiving itself.

There aren’t many people who don’t, at least, smile when they realize the holiday season is approaching. After all, it’s hard not to like a time of year that centers around fabulous food, fun gatherings, and the chance to finally get decorations out of storage and transform our houses into winter wonderlands.

Because it’s such a whirlwind of good times, the holidays tend to put us all in good moods. And it’s only natural we want to make sure our family, friends, and neighbors are feeling as happy as we are. So buying the perfect presents, visiting relatives, and serving our guests the most impressive turkey are all labors of love.

Once we’re in the spirit of giving to others, it’s hard to stop, and the next step is usually looking around to see who outside our immediate circle needs help. The holidays bring turkey, family, and gifts for many of us — but for some, the season doesn’t bring anything at all. The abundance of it all can act as a reminder that there are people in need out there in the world.

When the giving bug bites around Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s time to start searching for the best way to help. Thankfully there are lots of ways to go about it. Toy drives, monetary donations, and nursing-home visits are all superb ways of helping out your community.

Feeding the hungry just makes sense on this holiday centered around food, right? What better time to provide meals and pantry staples to those who need them most? There are more than a few families who won’t get a turkey this year, so if we can make a difference, it feels like we should try our best.

If your goal is to fight hunger during Thanksgiving, heading to a soup kitchen or food pantry to help out seems to make the most sense. It’s a direct path to those who need a hot dinner and everything that goes along with it. Many families even sign up together to help at such facilities in the morning, before heading home to enjoy turkey dinner.

It may be our natural instinct to head out and join the ranks of volunteers serving Thanksgiving meals on the holiday itself. But in an article for USA Today, CEO and president of the National Philanthropic Trust Eileen Heisman says that Thanksgiving can be one of the worst days to volunteer because of oversaturation.

At first glance, Heisman’s sentiments don’t seem to make sense, but her explanation clears things up. She says that the turkey-centric holiday is a magnet for many helping hands, but those first-timers are untrained, which can slow down the overall process. Basically, too many cooks in the kitchen doesn’t necessarily make it more efficient.

“If you really want to volunteer, pick any day, but don’t pick Thanksgiving or the day after Thanksgiving,” says Heisman. It sounds contradictory to the holiday spirit, but she elaborates that the reason for this is that volunteers are sparse when it comes to the other 363 days in the year. Unfortunately, many of these charitable organizations tend to fall off our radars without turkey-day reminder.

Soup kitchens and food pantries still desperately need help, just less so on popular holidays. What to do instead? Consider volunteering on a few weekends throughout year instead, which is ten times more valuable than joining the masses of people who pitch in on Thanksgiving Day. Get together with your family, and pencil in some dates. Working on non-holidays also gives people a chance to learn the ropes and become extra valuable once the holidays do roll around.

Of course, the holiday season may be the only time available for some people to volunteer, with the extra days off and all. And that’s OK too. Heisman’s advice is something to keep in mind, but any effort to help out those who are less fortunate is a good thing. So do what you can to help others — whenever you can. And remember to practice gratitude as you enjoy some turkey, stuffing, and a big piece of pie. Happy Thanksgiving!