By Lauren Monsen

Thanksgiving 2020 is arriving in the midst of a pandemic, but it won’t derail Americans’ generous impulses. In fact, U.S. charities will mark the holiday by maintaining their volunteer efforts and recruiting new allies.

Observed by Americans on the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving celebrates life’s bounty. Americans traditionally mark it by gathering for a meal of turkey, vegetables, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Many also cook meals at soup kitchens, donate or collect food for pantries that feed the poor, and distribute other basic supplies to those in need.

Trends at two all-volunteer organizations — Operation Turkey and Gobble Gobble Give, both of which serve people in cities across the U.S. — are typical of the many charitable efforts going on this year.

New protocols, same mission

In its 20th year, Operation Turkey will deliver hot meals as well as toiletries and clothing to those in need on Thanksgiving Day. Brian Tolbert, the organization’s executive director, said the group is consolidating some of its preparation sites this year. “Regular operations have been drastically changed and new protocols put in place” to meet health and safety requirements, he said.

Tolbert cites Cedar Park, Texas, as one city where Operation Turkey’s events cannot be held this year because of rising contagion levels. The organization aims to shift its Cedar Park activities to nearby Austin. Staying flexible, Tolbert said, will help the organization find a way to donate food to feed some 12,000 needy people in the area.

“It takes 624 turkeys to feed 12,000 people,” Tolbert said.

He said the volunteers “love helping others” on a holiday that emphasizes abundance, gratitude and kinship.

‘Happy chaos,’ but safety first

Gobble Gobble Give, launched in 1998, provides food and personal care items to the homeless each Thanksgiving. Paul Major, the group’s secretary, said the pandemic “has forced us to look closely at how we run our events.”

The organization describes itself as “happy chaos, or a potluck party with a purpose.” It doesn’t host sit-down meal services, as soup kitchens or shelters typically do. So “maintaining social distance is much easier to manage,” Major said.

Volunteers show up with donations of food, clothing and personal hygiene items to sort, pack and deliver to homeless communities.

To reduce the risk of virus transmission, Gobble Gobble Give has capped the maximum on-site attendance at all locations, Major said. But the group is also attracting new partners.

In Los Angeles, for instance, it will coordinate with the Hollywood Food Coalition, a charity that works with local churches and serves 200–250 meals each evening.

Sherry Bonanno, the executive director of the Hollywood Food Coalition, said that her group is pleased to partner with a large community group whose volunteers “bring a lot of joy and fun” to events. The groups anticipate a long-term partnership, one that “exemplifies the United States’ volunteer spirit.”

 “I’ve seen and experienced firsthand what it means to put oneself in front of a stranger in need and offer a helping hand. The rewards of that kind of an experience are, in a word, immeasurable.”  — Paul Major

While Gobble Gobble Give exists to help the needy, the organization’s “secret,” Major said, is that it also transforms the lives of its volunteers “as it did mine.” Major first volunteered in 2008 and has participated every year since then.