When I was a kid, my parents and I always talked about the things for which we were grateful before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. It was a nice tradition-and one we still perpetuate in our family-but it feels even better to translate our gratitude into something nice for someone else. A gratitude project is an event or gesture gives back to your community or to someone you love.
One of the most traditional gratitude projects is volunteering at a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving Day. In serving those less fortunate, we find within ourselves a kind of peace. At least I do. But what if you don’t want to go the traditional route? There are plenty of other gratitude projects that you might engage in with your family or organization.
Gratitude Project #1: Create Artwork for Kids in the Hospital
It is never fun to be stuck in a hospital bed, but this is particularly true during the holidays. Lift kids’ spirits by collecting artwork-drawings, paintings, photographs-from friends and people in your community, then send the package to the pediatrics department of a local hospital.
Our church group did this one year, and it’s a good idea to contact the hospital beforehand. Make sure you know all the rules. For example, most hospitals prefer that artwork be free of specific religious allusions and avoid phrases having to do with illness or injury. For example, instead of writing GET WELL SOON on a card, it is better to say THINKING OF YOU ON THANKSGIVING.
Gratitude Project #2: Decorate a Nursing Home
The elderly residents of nursing homes might not be able to play games or participate in group activities, but anyone can appreciate holiday decorations. Place a few calls to local nursing homes and ask if they would be willing to let your family or organization come spruce up the place.
It might be as simple as hanging streamers and blowing up balloons. Or you could take it to the next level and paint the walls, clean the floors, repair broken fixtures, and build things for residents to enjoy. Obviously, you’ll need to clear it with the administration department, but it could be a great project.
Gratitude Project #3: Help People Stay Safe
Sometimes the best acts of gratitude are those that increase safety for your community. If none exists, start a neighborhood watch program in an effort to reduce crime in the area. Invite the local police department and/or fire department to come and give a lecture about home and business safety.
You could also create a crime tip box for placement at a community building. This way, if someone knows of a crime in progress, he or she can alert the authorities while maintaining anonymity. If you are skilled in martial arts or self defense, you could organize a free clinic for men and women who want to learn how to defend themselves.
Gratitude Project #4: Donate Produce
If you enjoy nurturing a home garden, consider donating the fruits of your labor to a local homeless shelter. These organizations receive lots of canned goods and other non-perishables, but they might be grateful for a free source of healthy fruits and vegetables.
Take it even further and encourage your neighbors to do the same thing. Then, at specific times throughout the year, put all your harvested produce together and haul it over to the shelter.
Create Your Own
A Gratitude Project doesn’t have to be an enormous community effort; it can be as simple as passing out free flyers about eco-friendly living or helping a neighbor solve a problem. The goal is to think outside the box and to help someone else enjoy the holiday season.