9 Heartwarming Thanksgiving Volunteer Opportunities to Spread Joy and Give Back

UPDATED: November 20, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 20, 2023
People volunteering at a food bank on thanksgiving showing one of many thanksgiving volunteer opportunities

Now that the season of giving is upon us, are you looking to give back to your community through opportunities to volunteer for Thanksgiving? You’re not alone. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that formal volunteers gave more than 4 billion hours of service from September 2020 to September 2021.

But knowing where to volunteer can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you want to volunteer on Thanksgiving—one of the most popular volunteer days of the year. Whether you want to donate time, money, goods or all three, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for everyone. And it won’t be only your community reaping the benefits; you’ll gain skills and insights from volunteering. Keep reading to learn where to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day and how to find community service opportunities in your community.

9 opportunities to volunteer on Thanksgiving

This time of year is meant for gratitude, and many people put their gratitude into action by volunteering. Check out these nine ideas for where to volunteer on Thanksgiving so you can get involved in your community this holiday season.

1. Serve Thanksgiving meals at local food banks

Serving meals at a food bank or soup kitchen is one of the most common choices for Thanksgiving volunteers. As a day to give thanks and enjoy a meal with others, your local food bank might seem like the perfect place to volunteer. Just remember: Many people sign up to volunteer on Thanksgiving, so you might want to choose a different day to volunteer to ensure you’re helping when the soup kitchen or food bank is in need.

2. Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with the elderly

Meals on Wheels is a longstanding organization that helps deliver nutritious meals to elderly or disabled community members. Volunteering with the program is a great way to get out of the house and provide a vital service for your community. Many programs encourage volunteers to stay and visit with the recipient after making a delivery.

Delivering meals isn’t the only way to volunteer with the elderly or sick on Thanksgiving. Many hospitals and nursing homes invite community members to share a meal or spend time with residents during the holidays. Visiting with residents is a great way to help bring joy to those who don’t have someone to share the holidays with.

3. See if the animal shelter has opportunities to volunteer on Thanksgiving

Are you more of an animal person than a people person? Your local animal shelter or rescue is a great place to volunteer on Thanksgiving. Many shelters are overrun with pets and can use the extra help. Volunteering on a holiday also gives employees the chance to take a day off and spend time with their families and pets. Be ready to help where you can, even if that means cleaning a kennel in addition to playing with puppies. 

4. Get a workout while helping a good cause

Even if you’re not training for a marathon, signing up for a turkey trot can be a fun way to get exercise while giving back. Most turkey trots and Thanksgiving Day races are sponsored by local organizations that give back to the community. Typically, entry fees and other donations go to a local charity or cause, often relating to food insecurity in the area.

Not much of a runner but still want to help out? Turkey trot races often need volunteers to help run the event itself. You might be able to help sign in participants at the beginning of the day or hand out water after the race.

5. Show appreciation for those who have to work during the holidays

Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy a day off on Thanksgiving. Essential service providers—from first responders to road workers—often have to work on holidays. A great and easy way to show your appreciation is to deliver care packages with tasty treats and thank-you notes to those who have to work. Some places to deliver your goodie bags include the fire station, police station and hospital. Don’t forget the highway department if you live in an area with snow! 

6. Put together care packages for soldiers

Local workers aren’t the only ones who can’t be with their families on Thanksgiving. Double your impact by putting together care packages for overseas troops in addition to local first responders. There are many programs to help you pack and mail care packages to soldiers stationed around the world. Try contacting your local VFW or other veterans organizations to see if there’s a program in your area.

7. Find volunteer opportunities to clean up your community on Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t enjoy clean streets or pristine community parks? Call your friends and family and make a day of picking up trash in your local area. Common places to start include hiking or walking trails, playgrounds and along roadways.

As a bonus, you’ll get a chance to spend some quality time walking with loved ones as you move through the park or down the road.

8. Host or work a donation drive

Hosting or working at food drives can be a rewarding opportunity to volunteer this Thanksgiving. Check your local community calendar for any upcoming donation events or start your own with family and friends.

You don’t have to donate just food, either. Other types of donation drives include winter clothing and toys to help bring joy to underserved families during the holidays.

9. Give your time to public resources

Your local public library, community center and schools are great places to volunteer. Depending on your skills and interests, you might be able to tutor students or host events like story time and arts and crafts. While they might not have volunteer opportunities on Thanksgiving Day, giving your time to these public resources directly benefits your community and helps take the stress off of employees during busy holiday seasons.

How to find Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities in your community

The easiest way to find local volunteer opportunities is to reach out to known community service organizations, such as faith-based groups or nonprofits in the area. Many of these organizations will have websites or social media pages with contact information for volunteers.

Another way to find Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities is to work with established national programs. For example, Feeding America is a nonprofit that helps raise money and food to lower food insecurity across America. They make it easy to find volunteer opportunities through their website, which can help you find and contact local food banks or soup kitchens.

Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com