In a season when so many people focus on their blessings, it is sometimes easy to forget those who are not as fortunate. For every family who can afford to travel to be together around a sumptuous feast, there are many others for whom this is only wishful thinking. Though it is easy to feel sorry for those in this boat, it is much harder to know how to help. Enter Rob Adams and his organization, Thanksgiving Heroes.
Homeless and Hungry
Adams knows the feeling of missing out on turkey and stuffing all too well. He grew up in Texas as the oldest of six children. Though he had a happy childhood, he also remembers that they didn’t always have a place to stay. At one point, the entire family lived out of their truck. He only had two pairs of clothing: one for school and the other for church, and they could only afford to stay in a motel every few weeks to shower and clean their clothes.
“We never ate at home,” Adams recalls. “I had free breakfast and free lunch [at school], and those Texas lunch ladies, they would hook me up with those biscuits and gravy and grits and all that stuff. I was always hungry.”
A Generous Gesture
One year, another family left for Christmas vacation and invited Adams’s family to stay in their house while they were away. They left presents under their Christmas tree for them and a fridge stocked full of holiday delights.
“The fridge was clear full of food,” Adams recalls. “We opened up the door, and I saw that pumpkin pie with a dollop of whipped cream in the middle. I was so excited for this food. We could eat it right then if we wanted—I didn’t have to wait. I didn’t have to be hungry.” He adds,
“They gave us hope. It was more than food. And I would never forget it.”
Adams knew then that when he was older, he wanted to pay it forward to everyone he could. Years later, the nonprofit organization Thanksgiving Heroes was born with their motto, “No Hungry Families on Thanksgiving.” That first year, Adams made a goal to provide Thanksgiving dinner for 10 families in need. He reached out to family and friends and shared his mission on social media. He also reached out to local schools and other community organizations for support. Though he expected this to be a lofty goal, he had no idea of the size of the response that would follow.
That first year, his organization managed to feed 755 families. They put together a package of Thanksgiving food with a 20-pound turkey and enough to feed a typical family for five days. In addition to the turkey, the box also includes a variety of other fixings, including potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, ingredients for green bean casserole, rolls, apple cider, and pumpkin pie. His tradition is now in its sixth year and is constantly expanding its reach. Today, thousands of families have been fed, and Adams intends to feed thousands more going forward.
A Plea for Help
Adams recalls an especially moving experience delivering food with his own family. He had received a letter from an 11-year-old girl who had written to Thanksgiving Heroes on behalf of her family. She had lost her older brother to gang violence in another state, and afterward her family had moved to Utah. They struggled to make ends meet, all while mourning the loss of their family member. She pleaded for help with her family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
“How bad would things have to be for an 11-year-old girl to reach out like that?” Adams asks.
Adams and his children personally went to deliver food to this family, which turned out to be an incredible experience. They were so grateful, hugging each other and shedding many tears. Adams has kept in contact with them and has seen their willingness to give back to others ever since.
Blessings for All
Adams points out that this program blesses both those who give and those who receive. Often, those who receive help some years become the givers in the future.
Last year, Utahn Annie Griffin participated in delivering meals with her family, which includes her husband and two children, ages 9 and 13. Her husband is fluent in both English and Spanish, so they were assigned to take their meals to local Hispanic families in case her husband’s language skills were needed.
“It was so incredible for my kids to see how grateful the families were,” Griffin says. “All the families invited us in, and we all got to know each other. My kids were able to look around at their humble circumstances. They have never seen how hard it is for some people.”
Griffin described how each of the families to whom they delivered the food immediately wanted to give something back to them in gratitude. Their generous and grateful attitude left a lasting impression on both her and her children. After they were done, both of her children mentioned what an incredible experience it had been and how good it felt to give back to the community.
With several of the families they encountered, they exchanged contact information and have remained in contact. “It was so much more of a connection than just, ‘Here’s your food,’ and ‘See you later,’” Griffin explains.
Though last year was the Griffin family’s first time helping with Thanksgiving Heroes, it certainly will not be their last. “I’m looking forward to doing it again this year because it made such an impression on my children. I hope that this expands and moves even beyond Thanksgiving. The whole vibe we felt when we went to pick up the meals was so fun and positive. We need to come together, and it feels good to be united in such a great cause. It made me want to volunteer even more in any other capacity they needed.”
Paying It Forward
On the receiving end of things, local resident, Jamie Betker, explained how deeply this program impacted her family at a critical time. Three years ago, her daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer. Up to that point, Betker had been working to help support the family, but she had to quit her job to take care of her daughter, who required constant attention. The loss of that income led to difficult financial circumstances for their family.
“Not having to stress about having a Thanksgiving dinner meant a lot,” Betker says. “It was especially exciting for my kids, who opened the door when the food was delivered. We were so grateful for this kind service.”
This act of kindness inspired her children to pay it forward. They ended up pooling together their resources and delivering food to others on a smaller scale. Their father is a biker, and he was able to rally his other biking friends to act as a delivery service for other families.
How to Help
Thanksgiving Heroes now has a major presence in four major U.S. cities, including Cleveland, Ohio, Salt Lake City, Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dallas, Texas. On their website, thanksgivingheroes.org, they have a form to request that they come to your area so that they can expand their reach.
Thanksgiving Heroes is always looking for volunteer help and donations. Before the delivery each year, they need help to sort through the donations and then deliver them to all the families on the list. Each year, a few days before Thanksgiving, the volunteers meet in a central location to receive their Thanksgiving boxes and addresses of the recipients, with each vehicle delivering three or four boxes.
To contribute financially, there is a donation link directly on each city’s webpage. You can donate using a credit card, Venmo, or PayPal, and you even have the option to set up a recurring gift using your credit card. If you would rather, they also accept checks in the mail. Every $80 donated is enough to provide a meal kit for a family for five for a week.
If you know of a family in need, you can also nominate them directly on each city’s link. All it takes is answering a few questions on an online form. They do their best to help any and all suggested families that come to their attention.
“I see people all the time wanting to pay it forward. We help them get on their feet and then they want to help others,” Adams says. “In the last few years, we’ve become so isolated, and I think this is the cure. This gets us thinking about others, serving and loving other people. It is exactly what this world needs right now. What I wish that people understood about poverty is that it’s not just people in far-off lands. One in five children in our communities experience food insecurity, which is much too high. We need to look close to home to see who we can help.”
To donate, volunteer, or nominate a family in need, visit thanksgivingheroes.org.
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