Across the nation, food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and non-profit groups give free Thanksgiving feasts.
Through a vast network of food banks, Feeding America has reacted to the nation’s hunger epidemic for more than 40 years by giving food to those in need. John van Hengel created the idea of food banking in the late 1960s. A retired businessman, he volunteered at a soup kitchen. He once encountered a woman searching grocery store trash cans for food for her kids. She proposed that there should be a location where food could be kept instead of thrown out, much like how “banks” save money for future use. Thus, an industry was established. As the first food bank in the country, Van Hengel founded St. Mary’s Food Bank. He and his volunteers gave out 275,000 pounds of food in the first year. By 1977, food banks existed in 18 locations. Van Hengel launched Second Harvest in 1979, subsequently known as America’s Second Harvest, the Nation’s Food Bank Network, as a national organization for food banks. The most prominent domestic hunger-relief organization in the country today, Feeding America is a strong and effective network of 200 food banks around the nation.
A nationwide charity group called Thanksgiving Heroes has the straightforward goal of mobilizing tens of thousands of volunteers in American communities to serve Thanksgiving dinner to needy families. Rob Adams, the creator of Thanksgiving Heroes, remembered when his parents struggled to provide a Thanksgiving meal for his family. Despite those difficult times, their holidays were made more joyful by kind friends who fed them. Rob vowed never again to let another family go hungry on Thanksgiving. To carry on this commitment, he established Thanksgiving’s Heroes in Utah. Today, we provide “Thanksgiving Heroes” the chance to visit thousands of struggling American families in their homes with complete Thanksgiving meals, smiles, and hugs. Thanksgiving feasts can feed a whole family of five for a week. The ultimate goal is to prevent any American family from going hungry on Thanksgiving while also honoring the strength of humanity’s generosity, appreciation, and hope.
Each year, a group of unpaid volunteers collaborates to ensure everyone has a meal on Thanksgiving Day. Without a single paid employee in the last 22 years, Operation Turkey has remained an entirely volunteer-run organization. On Thanksgiving Day, more than 30,000 volunteers work together to ensure that everyone has a warm dinner. Operation Turkey established its first branch in San Marcos, Texas, in 2011, and additional towns and states have since joined. With the help of more than 35,000 volunteers, the group distributed more than 62,000 meals in 22 cities and seven states in 2019. Despite the COVID-19 epidemic, they continued to operate and successfully distributed more than 75,000 meals in 2020 and 2021.