Alternative Thanksgiving

by: Clare O’Keefe

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and loved ones. Spending time with family while stuffing your face with food sounds like an ideal Thanksgiving and what most people probably did this year. But what if you did not have a family to spend Thanksgiving with or even food to cook and eat?

This year my family and I decided to do an alternative Thanksgiving.  Instead of having 20 people over to our house, we decided instead to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those who need it most. My parents and I went to Safe Harbors of the Hudson, right here in Newburgh, to serve Thanksgiving dinner.

Safe Harbors of the Hudson houses a mixed group of adults. They include those who are living with mental health disabilities, physical disabilities, veterans, former homeless individuals, and low income working adults.

My parents and I headed to Safe Harbors around 8:30 a.m. to get started with our day. When we got there, we began to help set up the tables, organize silverware, drinks and set up dessert stations.

With some down time in between setting up and getting ready to serve Thanksgiving dinner, we began to talk to other people who were there. We met many different people; Some who volunteer every year and some who were also first time helpers.  A good amount of people we met there were involved because they wanted to help and do something different for Thanksgiving. One couple was there because their kids were now adults that lived far away and could not be home for Thanksgiving this year.

When the residents came down to have their dinners, I was a little shocked.  Several of them had some family members come and visit to eat with them, but there was a good amount of people who came down and ate alone.  I went around and spoke to some of the residents and brought them their food and drinks and made some small talk.

I took a step back at one point and I felt very sad.  How could people not have any family members or even friends to eat with on the holidays?  Usually I find such a large gathering on Thanksgiving slightly overwhelming, even after a few hours.  These people would probably love if anyone at all came to eat with them.  I felt so upset for those people, because I could never imagine spending a holiday alone.  It made me realize how important family can be, or even friends that you can consider family.

While serving food, the residents were all very gracious for our help. They kept thanking us over and over again and we could all tell that it meant a lot to them. It meant a lot to see how appreciative those were that we helped. Throughout the day there were about 30 volunteers that came in and out to help. To see other people give up their Thanksgiving dinner was very moving. Many of these people do it every year and do not think twice about it.

My Thanksgiving this year was not what I had envisioned it to be at all, but I would not change one thing.  My experience this year at my alternative Thanksgiving reminded me how important family is to me.  Just being with a few other people on a holiday can truly make all the difference. Thanksgiving may be the day of giving thanks, but we should be thankful everyday not only on Thanksgiving.