There are a multitude of Thanksgiving traditions — watching football, fighting with family members about politics, feeling stressed out and inadequate, gorging yourself on turkey and mediocre side dishes.
There are some less solipsistic ones as well. Lots of people, for example, like to volunteer on Thanksgiving, working at a local food bank or handing out free meals to the homeless.
But is this really the best time of year to help others?
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are our busiest volunteer days of the year,” Midnight Mission spokeswoman Georgia Berkovich tells us via email. “The most difficult thing about these holidays is not feeding thousands of our homeless and near-homeless community but trying to accommodate the hundreds of volunteers that want to volunteer on these two days.”
The Midnight Mission, located in the heart of Skid Row, serves three meals a day to pretty much anyone who shows up. It takes up to 20 volunteers to hand out food.
“The biggest need we have is the breakfast and lunch services on weekdays and the breakfast service on weekends,” during the rest of the year, Berkovich says.
The Los Angeles County Food Bank is the largest food bank in the region. It serves food to more than 1 million people every year, with the help of 27,000 volunteers. This week alone, they'll have more than 1,000.
“Thanksgiving is a very busy time for the food bank,” says Food Bank spokesman Andy Morris. “Everyone thinks about giving back around this time of year.”
They, too, often have more volunteers than they can handle on Thanksgiving, though Morris is reluctant to tell people not to show up.
“For the thousands of volunteers who work on Thanksgiving and come away thinking, 'Man, I now see the scale of this operation, I want to volunteer in a deeper way,' it’s worth it,” he says.
However, if you're trying to decide between donating food and giving cash, that one is easy: Give cash.
“The dollar you spent on one can of beans could have been turned into four whole meals,” says Morris, because organizations who serve the poor buy in bulk and know how to get serious bargains.
According to a study conducted by the L.A. County Food Bank, one out of every six people in L.A. County is “food insecure,” meaning that by the end of the month, they don't have enough money for meals. And one out of every four children is “food insecure.”
And these problems, of course, exist year-round. Says Morris: “Hunger is not a Thanksgiving problem.”