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Food banks are annually deluged by calls and e-mails from community members hoping to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas slinging turkey and mashed potatoes. But those desirable volunteer slots fill up quickly, and small food banks literally don't have room for additional well-intentioned assistants.
"I understand this is a good time for people who have a lot to think about how to help those don't," Jessica Wright, home delivery coordinator for the University District Food Bank, says. "But, especially in a space like ours, we can leverage cash a lot better than physical bodies."
Yet just because there isn't a vacancy on the service line doesn't mean you can't acknowledge and address hunger during the coming feasts of plenty. Here, eight ways to integrate service into your celebration:
1. Divide and add
The average Thanksgiving for 10 costs $49.48, but many meals cost significantly more: Blue Valley Meats, a Walla Walla outfit which delivers around Seattle, prices its heritage turkeys at $6.59 a pound, meaning the centerpiece bird often runs upward of $100. And the holiday wine rage this year is large format magnums and jeroboams, which are typically triple-digit affairs. No matter what's on your table, Wright suggests adding up the total cost of dinner; dividing by the number of guests and donating the price of one plate to a local food bank.
2. Get to work
Volunteering is attractive to many holiday celebrants because it upends the standard slothlike schedule of sitting and eating. Families set on integrating physical activity into their Thanksgivings can pick up an odd job and donate the proceeds to a food bank: Although washing dishes at a community meal might feel more meaningful than raking leaves or hauling trash, Wright points out the food bank can purchase five cans with $1.
3. Check out charitably
While you may have completed your Thanksgiving shopping days in advance, it's a near-certainty you'll have to make a final grocery run on Thanksgiving Day. Wright suggests choosing a grocery store which collects cash to make nutritious bulk purchases, such as PCC, and adding a donation to your bill.
4. Pledge to volunteer another day
Volunteer rolls are straining at the seams during the holidays, but food banks desperately need volunteer labor after the first of the year. Rick Jump of White Center Food Bank says he's always recruiting daytime workers and drivers to pick up and deliver groceries.
5. Clean up wisely
Food banks can't accept baked goods or other homemade treats, so there's no point in bringing an extra pumpkin pie to a nearby collection site. But canned and packaged goods - especially high-protein items, such as chicken broth - are always welcome. While it's not as valuable as cash, consider donating your unused and unopened Thanksgiving ingredients to a food bank. "Our warehouse is pretty empty," Jump says.
6. Ask for donations
Polite Thanksgiving guests always ask their hosts or hostesses what they should bring to supper. In addition to salads, rolls and desserts, Jump says it's totally appropriate to request food bank donations. "That raises the issue of hunger," he says.
7. Avoid conversational lulls
Guests may not agree on who should have won the presidential election or the Detroit Lions game, but the vast majority of Americans agree nobody should have to go hungry in this country. Ask your guests to come to dinner ready to discuss which hunger relief organization should receive a donation in the celebration's name: The research and ensuing dialogue will almost surely draw diners' attentions to great, hard-working organizations of which they knew little or nothing.
8. Create your own tradition
Perhaps one of the above ideas resonates perfectly with you. Or perhaps not. The trick is finding a way to help during the holidays that works for both the giver and recipient -- and making it a permanent component of holiday celebrations.