Thanksgiving is usually a time for watching parades and stuffing one’s face with turkey and cranberry sauce. But the United States has always taken pride in celebrating the very essence of this holiday. Thanksgiving is a time to help others, to embrace that community spirit and give a little back. Shelters provide warm places for the homeless. Charities raise money for many important causes. And families gather round the table to give thanks. Thanksgiving reminds us that the United States is a truly warm and welcoming place.
From emergency service workers to the volunteers who man the food banks, many ordinary men and women will spend this Thanksgiving helping others. So let’s take some time to celebrate just some of these wonderful people and their sacrifices.
See Also: 10 Ways The History Of Thanksgiving Is Nothing Like You Imagined
10 Saving a Baby’s Life
On Thanksgiving in 2011, firefighters arrived at the scene of a Brooklyn apartment that was engulfed in flames. The fire began when a careless smoker dropped a lit cigarette on a mattress. In a frantic bid to douse the fire, one of the residents attempted to move the mattress into the bathroom. =The plan failed spectacularly, causing the fire to spread even faster.
The New York City Fire Department arrived within less than three minutes. One of the teams set about extinguishing the fire, while the others started to pull survivors from the smoke-filled building. One of the occupants leapt from a third-story window onto the awning of the adjacent building. The man was trapped and covered in blood. Firefighter Matthew Hanley, of Ladder 122, retrieved the man.
Meanwhile, firefighters David Newberry and Richard Myers rushed into the apartment to rescue the remaining residents. Myers successfully extracted a man and a woman. Amid the ruins, Newberry discovered a young baby who was no longer breathing. Firefighters Andrew Hartshorne and Neil Malone worked with the EMT crew to administer CPR. The youngster, Josiah Alexis, remained lifeless for almost six nerve-racking minutes. Thankfully, the crew managed to bring Josiah back. “It’s like a song to your ears to hear that baby get its breath on its own,” said Malone.
It took the firefighters an hour to control the blaze. The entire family was taken to hospital and placed on ventilators. “Make no mistake about it, there’s five people alive today due to coordinated efforts of FDNY,” explained FDNY Deputy Chief Kevin Woods, “and that, on this Thanksgiving, we are very thankful for.”
9 Disabled Teen Fulfills Thanksgiving Wish
Drew Bell was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect that led to problems with the development of his spine. Over the years, the youngster has undergone a total of seven corrective surgeries. Drew can no longer walk and remains confined to a wheelchair. But this has not stopped him from living a normal life.
After enrolling at Keller High School in Texas, he decided to join the school’s 400-strong marching band. Drew served as one of the band’s trumpeters and formed a strong friendship with fellow marcher Kailey Summons. But there was one obvious problem. Drew could not maneuver his wheelchair and play the trumpet at the same time. When the band directors pitched the idea of another student helping Drew during his marches, Kailey immediately volunteered. The two practiced together from that day on. This meant that Kailey sacrificed the opportunity to play her own instrument during the school’s football “Spirit Shows.”
“I just did it to make sure he knew that he always had a place in the band, and he always will,” Kailey explained. The 18-year-old had other commitments, too. As the leader of the brass section, she had to perform uniform checks and organize the freshman performers.
In 2018, Drew got to fulfill his wish of appearing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kailey was initially set to perform alongside him. But Drew’s mother, Kimberly Bell, wanted Kailey to march like any other band member. So Kimberly stepped in to push her son instead. “I’m just thankful this worked out because I want her to shine and have her moment,” she explained.
8 Texting the Wrong Number
In 2016, Jamal Hinton was surprised to see an offer of Thanksgiving dinner pop up on his phone. “Thanksgiving dinner is at my house on Nov. 24 at 3:00pm. Let me know if you’re coming. Hope to see you all.” The woman claimed it was his grandmother. Hinton was skeptical. “Well, it was either the wrong number or my grandma learned how to use her phone,” Hinton mocked.
When the 17-year-old asked for a photo, it became clear that Jamal was speaking to someone else’s grandmother. Jokingly, he asked if a plate was still up for grabs. The faux grandmother, Wanda Dench, insisted that Jamal attend her Thanksgiving dinner anyway. So that’s exactly what he did.
The happy accident has now sparked a tradition. In 2018, the Arizona teen attended Thanksgiving dinner at Wanda’s for the third year running. He even brought pumpkin pie. Jamal and his partner intend to invite Wanda over for future Thanksgiving dinners, once they get their own place. After the media drew attention to the story, Kraft Heinz gave Wanda a year’s supply of Stove Top stuffing. She donated most of the stuffing to a local food bank.
7 Extending the Family
National Adoption Day is observed on the Saturday before each Thanksgiving. Many states take the opportunity to rehome as many youngsters as possible. Every year, hundreds of events are organized nationwide to raise awareness of the 400,000+ children currently in the foster care system.
Brian Palmucci, a Massachusetts-based criminal defense attorney, knew for years that he would adopt a child. He witnessed vulnerable children entering the system for many reasons. Some parents became hooked on drugs. Others suffered from crippling mental health problems. So, on National Adoption Day 2018, Palmucci returned to his own courthouse and adopted a little boy, Michael.
That day, Brockton District Court united 37 children with new families. Nurse Shelly Sepulveda was there to adopt her sixth child, Kameron. The 9-year-old first met Shelly while he was in hospital battling a rare form of bone cancer. Kameron is now in remission.
A week later, Michael sat down to have Thanksgiving dinner with his new family. “We’re the ones that have been blessed with him, not really the other way around,” explained Allison Palmucci. “He’s changed our lives probably more than we’ve changed his.”
6 A Feast for the Homeless
It is no secret that California has a problem with homelessness. The authorities estimate that the Golden State was responsible for almost a quarter of all homelessness in the United States last year. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, almost 130,000 homeless people wander the streets of California. Tens of thousands of these people are veterans and young adults.
The Midnight Mission on Skid Row does what it can to help, preparing Thanksgiving dinner for thousands of homeless people each year. The mission also hands out other essential items, including hygiene kits, clothing, and blankets. Of course, many of California’s missions reach out to the needy all year round. They help combat homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction.
It is not unusual to see famous faces handing out Thanksgiving meals on Skid Row. Every year, actress Minnie Driver takes her son along to serve food. She hopes it will teach him to become part of the community and give back. In 2018, Kevin Hart’s daughter persuaded him to drop by on Thanksgiving. His family donated $50,000 to the mission and handed out food and care packages. “I will say I am happy to be a helping hand,” the comedian told the media. “But I think the people that were involved with the Mission on a daily basis… those are the real people that deserve the applause.”
Every Thanksgiving morning, thousands of Los Angeles residents participate in a charity run called the “Turkey Trot.” Adults enter the 5K and 10K trots, while the children take on the “Widdle Wobble” race. The Midnight Mission, which prepares over 400,000 meals annually, uses the proceeds of the run to pay for its supplies.
5 The 9-Year-Old Shoe Collector
Lynnea Montgomery has always wanted to help others. When Lynnea was just seven years old, she raised nearly $400 to buy clothes for the homeless. The Arizona girl then spent the next two years raising more money for her cause, even going so far as to use her own allowance.
Lynnea’s church would often donate clothes to the homeless around Thanksgiving. However, she noticed that they had received very few donations of shoes. So, the following year, Lynnea hatched a plan. She handed out hand-written flyers, asking Tucson residents to donate pairs of shoes.
The community came through. Nearly 200 pairs were donated over a six-month period. Lynnea even received several bags of shoes from L.A. Dodgers player Alex Verdugo. After washing any used shoes at the local laundromat, Lynnea spent Thanksgiving handing them out to the homeless. The fourth grader was joined by members of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, who had previously given her the Outstanding Volunteer Award. Lynnea spoke about what motivated her to keep doing charity work: “We’re not needy because we are rich as in we’re rich in God, so I know everything will come to me as God pleases, and I want that to come to others, and so I wanted to help others.”
4 Mattress Mack
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated vast swathes of southern Texas and Louisiana. The Category 4 hurricane inflicted around $125 billion of damage, dumping torrential rain across Houston and displacing nearly 40,000 residents. A staggering 70 percent of Harris County was under water. And the sheer weight of the floods caused Houston to sink two centimeters.
On the morning of August 27, Jim McIngvale waded through his waterlogged home to get ready for another day’s work. But the Houstonian businessman only saw the true scale of the destruction as he made his way to his furniture store. McIngvale, better known as “Mattress Mack,” was determined to help his community. He invited residents to join him at the Gallery Furniture store for food and shelter. He also dispatched his delivery trucks to rescue around 200 residents who were trapped.
When Thanksgiving came around, Mack hosted dinner for the people of Houston. Hundreds of volunteers prepared around 5,000 pounds of turkey and ham. They also served up cranberry sauce, cornbread, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pizzas, and hotdogs. A whopping 6,000 meals were served that day. Mack also paid for a group of first responders to fly out to Los Angeles and watch the Houston Astros play in the World Series.
Mack has used his wealth for many good deeds over the years. The 68-year-old has raised awareness of mental health issues, funded a mobile stroke unit, and donated furniture to local schools. Mack’s mantra is simple: “The essence of living is giving.”
3 The Theft that Rallied a Community
Volunteers at a food bank in Toledo, Ohio, were left in despair mere days before Thanksgiving 2017. The team arrived at the Cornucopia Food Pantry to learn that a bunch of crooks had stolen the charity’s only delivery trailer. The trailer was needed to ferry supplies to deprived community members. Without it, the volunteers were left dismantling each pallet of donations. They then had to load the items into their own cars, making the delivery process more difficult and time-consuming.
Executive Director Laura Marsh decided to post details of the incident on Facebook. She was quickly inundated with offers of help. “We started getting phone calls and phone calls and phone calls,” Marsh explained. “My phone was ringing until 2:30 in the morning from people that were interested in helping us.”
With help from the community, the Cornucopia Food Pantry was able to make all of their Thanksgiving deliveries. Local residents used their own trucks to deliver stocks of food and clothing. And a couple from Michigan donated $1,500 to fund a new loading ramp.
2 Haircuts for Turkeys
This year, barber Nate Rivera wants to make a pact with his clientele. The Kansas business owner says he will offer a free haircut to each customer who donates a turkey. The scheme, “haircuts for turkeys,” is designed to help families that are less fortunate.
Rivera, owner of N8’s Barbershop, understands that the costs associated with hosting Thanksgiving dinner can quickly mount up. Rivera needed a kidney transplant when he was a teenager, leaving his family with costly medical bills. Thankfully, friends and kindly strangers offered to pay for the Rivera family’s Thanksgiving dinner. “You can’t express how thankful I was for people that were wanting to be part of helping others without anything in return,” he said.
1,200 miles away, a Florida hairdresser is devising a similar plan. Casandra Raley will give free haircuts throughout Thanksgiving Day. The 24-hour haircut marathon is Raley’s way of showing appreciation to those who have supported her business. “I’ve been blessed to have clients in this community [who have] stood behind me and continue to come and help my business grow,” she explained. Raley will also provide free meals for her customers’ families and hand out bags of groceries.
1 The Paradise Firefighters
2018 was the year of California’s most destructive wildfire. The blaze, known as Camp Fire, was caused by a faulty power line above Butte County’s Poe Dam. The fire quickly spread via the dry scrubland, with powerful winds sweeping it into the town of Paradise. Within mere hours, the inferno had laid waste to the entire town. Other regions were badly affected, including Concow, Magalia, and Butte Creek Canyon. The fire tore through 153,000 acres of land, destroyed 18,800 structures, and claimed the lives of 85 people.
Thousands of firefighters were called upon to deal with the fire. The nighttime air turned blood red and was filled with ash and embers. Desperate escapees found themselves stranded on congested highways, watching as their own cars burst into flames. The windows of fire trucks were fitted with fire-resistant blankets. Cal Fire strike teams worked against the traffic to reach the ever-stalking wall of fire. Other teams made a last stand at a local gas station, forming a defensive line to protect fleeing motorists. The unfolding crisis raged for two weeks straight. Miraculously, the fire was halted through a combination of heavy rainfall and the tireless efforts of firefighters.
Even after the firestorm had died down, the emergency services continued their efforts. Over Thanksgiving, firefighters searched for survivors amid the smoldering ruins of Paradise. Cadaver dogs were deployed to sniff out any remains. Charities and churches orchestrated relief efforts, providing food and shelter to evacuees. And the Red Cross provided medical aid and fought to control an outbreak of the norovirus. As if that wasn’t enough, some of the firefighters even prepared Thanksgiving dinner for the victims of Camp Fire.
Cooks and volunteers from across the state descended upon Chico, situated 10 miles west of Paradise. There they assembled rows of stick burners and gas-assist grills. Organizers cooked around 7,500 pounds of turkey – enough to serve between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees. José Andrés and Guy Fieri coordinated the enormous banquet. The turkeys were brined at 8pm on the eve of Thanksgiving, and the cooking commenced at 5am. Thousands of meals were served to evacuees, first responders, and volunteers with the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Jim Irving was one of the firefighters who sacrificed his Thanksgiving to help prepare meals. He had already spent several grueling weeks battling Camp Fire. “To me this is almost like… I’d rather be here,” Irving said. “You know it’s helping other people and that’s part of what Thanksgiving’s about.”