Would you invite a complete stranger into your home for Thanksgiving dinner? What about a whole family of complete strangers?
That's what Parker Mitchell and Kyle Baptista are asking Torontonians to do this coming holiday weekend. And in spite of the city's reserved reputation, people have stepped up to the challenge.
It all began a scant seven days ago when Mitchell, the co-founder of Engineers Without Borders Canada, approached his old colleague Baptista with an idea. What if they invited Canadians to open their homes and pantries to those who were new to the country to celebrate one of our most meaningful holidays, Thanksgiving? Mitchell's thought was to reciprocate some of the incredible warmth and hospitality he and Baptista had experienced in their work abroad with EWB and in their travels. For Baptista, the idea just made sense.
'You're often welcomed with open arms,' Baptista tells The Huffington Post Canada over the phone of his experiences in countries like Ghana. 'For new Canadians, our environment can seem cold in comparison."
So the two men set out to make things happen quickly. After a night of brainstorming at Toronto's Nuit Blanche, Mitchell and Baptista, the former creative director for EWB, created a website for Share Thanksgiving, Mitchell organized with some local community agencies to find guest families, and the two started spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook.
That's when CBC's well-loved morning host, Matt Galloway, saw their tweet and booked them on the city's top-rated morning radio show, Metro Morning.
'We had 1,000 hits to the website the hour after we went on,' Baptista says. And around 60 host families willing to share their dinner tables and give thanks with strangers.
'It's a naturally good idea,' Baptista says of Share Thanksgiving, which can help guests understand and enjoy the holiday, and allow everyone involved to learn more about their respective cultures. Settlement programs for new Canadians often offer similar introduction and integration programs like conversation groups and mentorship programs, but this program focuses uniquely on the simple celebration of giving thanks, and it's a small gesture Baptista thinks could "catalyze other acts of generosity."
There are no hard and fast rules to the volunteer project, and the Share Thanksgiving team is working with settlement agencies and organizations like North York Community House to safely match up new and host families in time for this weekend (so far they've had one shared dinner ahead of the weekend, which Baptista says was a great success). And Share Thanksgiving doesn't have to end after the turkey is gone, and those inspired by the event who can't participate for Thanksgiving can always host in the future, Baptista says. Nationwide and US interest has the group thinking about future events, and what with American Thanksgiving on the horizon...
'I would love love love for people to take [the idea] and run with it and change it and adapt it and modify it for their city,' Baptista says. There's no ownership over the idea, it's meant to be shared... much like the meal of thanks in store for this weekend.
To find out more about Share Thanksgiving or sign up, visit their website at sharethanksgivingdinner.org
Looking for other ways to help this weekend? Check out some ideas below:
It's as simple as going through your pantry or grabbing a few extra cans off the grocery store shelves — food donations are always appreciated, and with more than 850,000 Canadians using food banks each month on average, your donation will certainly be put to good use. The most needed food items, according to the Daily Bread Food Bank, are: baby formula and food, beans and lentils, canned fruits and vegetables, canned fish and meat, cans of soup or hearty stew, dried pasta and tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, rice, and canned, powdered or Tetra Pak cartons of milk.
Being surrounded by loved ones is one of the best reasons to be thankful. Unfortunately, not everyone has family and loved ones close by, and holidays can be a lonely time, especially for those who are confined to their homes. One way to give during the holidays is to visit the homebound; church ministries often have visiting programs, as do organizations like The Mustard Seed . One of the best known programs, Meals On Wheels, has local chapters across Canada and combines meal delivery with in-house visits.
The companion to food bank donations, giving your time in a soup or community kitchen can help make all the difference to someone in need. A hot meal can nourish both body and soul, and various organizations like the Salvation Army, local church ministries and Food Banks Canada can direct you to volunteering opportunities at kitchens in your area. Don't know how to cook? There are still lots of options to help out that don't involve a stove.
Giving back doesn't have to just be a kindness extended to strangers -- your friends and loved ones may be in dire straits or away from their own families, and a home-cooked meal can be just the thing to help everyone feel connected. 'Orphan' Thanksgiving celebrations are commonplace in urban centres these days, where transplanted folks who don't have families nearby to sup with hold their own feasts. All you need: some turkey, some fixins' and some good friends.
Women's shelters are always in need of dry goods donations that go beyond food stuffs. Items like new clothes, toiletries, cooking ware, blankets, gift cards, books and more can help women in crisis who seek safety for themselves and their children in these vitally important shelters. Researching your local shelter's website can determine the items most needed. Homeless shelters for both men, women and youth may also accept item donation.
Not only do Canada's food banks need to keep their stocks up, but they also need volunteers to help sort all the donations they receive during Thanksgiving and throughout the year, as well as take care of the other administrative and organizational tasks required to run a large operation like a food bank smoothly. Food Banks Canada has a network of banks that accept volunteers, or search for food banks in your area to find opportunities.
Holiday weekends can be a tough time for blood drive initiatives, since many of us are spending time with family and friends. October is Blood Donation month, and the Canadian Blood Services aims to collect a significant amount of its total donations during this time. You can find out more on their website and make an appointment.