Giving Thanks(giving)

Well, here we are, Thanksgiving Day. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to view this particular holiday as just a speed bump on the way to Christmas. Sure, the food is good and all, but CHRISTMAS! Starting tomorrow, holiday music will officially be acceptable, as will T’s and my slightly crazed excitement about putting up our stockings and getting a tree.

As much as I can’t wait for this weekend when we can start working on those things, it’s definitely important to recognize what we’re celebrating today. Many of us are enjoying time with our family or closest friends, watching the great American sport of football (go Niners!), sitting down to an elaborate, home-cooked meal, and expressing our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have in our lives. Whether it’s for our loved ones, our health, our homes and jobs, or something else entirely, we can all find something to be thankful for.

During this time of year, it’s also important to remember that there are people in our communities who may not have as much to be thankful for as we do. So many people are struggling with so many different things right now that make the holidays a tough, emotional, bittersweet time for them. We need to find ways to reach out to those people during this season.

Every Thanksgiving season, our youth group does an event called Thanksgiving Baskets, where we put together food “baskets” (actually boxes and grocery bags) for several needy families in our community, then go out and actually deliver them. We’ve been doing this since I was a student in the youth group (and probably before that too), and now T and I participate as leaders. This past Sunday was our annual Thanksgiving Baskets event, and I’m glad to say that we successfully delivered food baskets for thirteen local families.

It’s always a fun event, but also very exhausting. For weeks we’d been collecting donations from our church congregation of dry goods as well as money. On the day of the event, the first step is always to sort the donated goods and figure out what we still need to buy.

Students sorting food.

Students sorting food.

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Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren't even expired!

Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren’t even expired!

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T and a student.

T and a student.

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Me and several of my students.

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After the food is sorted, our youth director figures out what we still need to buy, based on the needs of each family we’ll be serving. Then he comes back with a big shopping list, divided into several groups by leader. This leads to what is usually the most fun part of the day: walking across the street to Safeway as a big group, dividing up, and taking over the store as we empty out shelves of flour, sugar, milk, yogurt, cheese, bananas, lettuce, frozen turkeys, and anything else that we didn’t get donated to us. The students always love the looks they get from regular Safeway customers as we take over an entire checkout aisle and rack up over $1,000 worth of food (in many smaller transactions, to circumvent the director’s credit card limits).

So many turkeys!

So many turkeys!

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Part of my team's haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

Part of my team’s haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

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The director and cashier deep in action.

The director and cashier deep in action.

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Once we get back to church with a van full of food, we have to unload and re-sort everything before we can begin packing the baskets. Each anonymous family has a list of items and quantities, and the leaders and students pair up to work on packing the boxes and bags. Once all the food has been packed, we divide up into cars and head out to deliver the baskets.

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Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

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All packed up and ready to go!

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It’s amazing to see our students hard at work serving the families of our community. I’m always so proud of what they accomplish at Thanksgiving Baskets and how they touch people’s lives through their giving hearts. We always pray that the people we serve will understand the love of Christ a little better because of these teenagers and their love for him and for his ministry on earth.

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