New Ways to Give Back During the Holidays

By Carrie Gavit

Celebrate Thanksgiving with volunteer opportunities throughout the community.

Each holiday season, communities begin to count their blessings, whether it’s for the homes they live in, the clothes they wear, the food on the table or a plethora of other daily activities and opportunities worth praising. Take this thankfulness to the next level as Thanksgiving approaches this year by looking for ways to give back with volunteer opportunities.

In Austin, there isn’t simply one way, nor is there one specific day on which individuals can volunteer their time during the holidays. Options vary, including walking, running, cooking, cleaning, delivering and sorting before and on Thanksgiving Day as methods to provide for others.    

Operation Turkey

Driving home from a Thanksgiving meal spent with friends in 2000, Richard Bagdonas had a plate of leftovers sitting next to him in his car. As he made his way through downtown Austin, Bagdonas stopped on Sixth Street after noticing a homeless man in a wheelchair. Feeling compelled to act, Bagdonas gave his leftover Thanksgiving dinner to another homeless man who helped the man in the wheelchair eat. After getting back in his car, Bagdonas knew this wasn’t going to be a one-time experience for him.

Bagdonas founded Operation Turkey, which has been gathering volunteers to provide food, clothing and blankets to the homeless in Austin ever since. In 2001, he provided two meals. In 2004, Bagdonas and a group of volunteers handed out 16 meals and an equal number of coats and blankets. By 2008, Operation Turkey consisted of 2,900 volunteers who provided meals for 3,500 people in 25 cities. In 2013, 5,000 meals were provided.

Now, Operation Turkey provides 20,000 meals, clothing and toiletries to the homeless in Texas and Colorado. The day before Thanksgiving, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., volunteers are needed to pitch in at the Turkey Tailgate, located at Bikini’s Sports Bar and Grill. More than 400 turkeys are smoked this day, and there’s also other work involved, such as preparing food for distribution, and collecting and sorting clothing and toiletry donations. On Thanksgiving Day, individuals select in which area of Austin they would like to volunteer: Central/South, Northwest or Northeast. Volunteer positions range from driver and traffic controller to food preparer, a job that includes readying all the Thanksgiving meal fixings. Everyone must show up by 8:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Kids are welcome and encouraged to join in on this opportunity to give back.

To learn more about Operation Turkey and how to become involved, attend one of the two orientations at the Historic Scoot Inn on Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., or Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. If you are unable to participate in the volunteer events, you can still provide a donation to the cause by visiting the online donation page. For questions, contact volunteers@operationturkey.com.

ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot

The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive

Start your Thanksgiving morning off with a run to make room for Thanksgiving dinner by participating in ThunderCloud Subs’ 24th annual Turkey Trot. Throughout the years, the Turkey Trot has raised more than $2 million, donating the proceeds to Caritas of Austin. Caritas is a nonprofit organization that helps increase stability and self-sufficiency for those suffering from poverty or homelessness. Caritas clients include veterans, refugees, women and children. To help support Caritas of Austin, sign up now to participate in the Turkey Trot. Participants choose to run or walk in the 5-mile family run, which is both timed and untimed, a 1-mile walk or a Stepping Stone School Kids’ K. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., with the first race starting at 8:45 a.m. Each race after the first is staggered, with the awards ceremony at 10:45 a.m. Pre-event packet pickup begins on Nov. 21 at First Texas Honda and Luke’s Locker. The event takes place rain or shine, so plan accordingly.

Meals on Wheels and More

Meals on Wheels and More began in Austin with 29 homebound seniors the group delivered food to three times a week. Now, this program provides services for nearly 5,000 individuals. Partnered with H-E-B, Meals on Wheels and More celebrates its third annual Thanksgiving meal delivery this year. Meals on Wheels and More is the only organization in Austin that cooks and delivers meals on Thanksgiving Day to homebound individuals. Sign up as a volunteer for this unique organization that serves those in Austin who may not otherwise receive a warm, homemade Thanksgiving meal this year. Substitute drivers for Nov. 26 are currently in demand. If you are interested in volunteering in December, Christmas Day meal-delivery positions still need to be filled as well. Visit Meals on Wheels and More to learn more about other volunteer opportunities throughout the year.


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