When most of us think about Thanksgiving, we think of turkey and overeating and spending time with family. Others get excited about spending the day watching football or Black Friday shopping deals.

But if we stop and take a moment to reflect, Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the blessings in our lives. And it is about giving to others who might not be as fortunate.

I challenge you to take a few moments away from feasting, football and shopping strategy to really think about how much more fortunate you are than others. And how you can share what you have to brighten up someone else’s life.

Giving Time:

While every organization needs money, they also need people willing to give their time.

I started volunteering when I was 13. I was a candy striper at a nearby hospital. I pushed people in wheelchairs to their rooms upon admission and delivered IV fluids from the pharmacy to the nurses stations. I was given a lot of responsibility for a 13 year old and it started me on a path of lifelong volunteering.

Over the years, I’ve volunteered for a number of organizations. I led a drama workshop for adults with the St. Louis Association for Retarded Citizens and was a wishgranter for Make-A-Wish Foundation. I’ve also done a lot of single day projects that included winterizing homes for low income families, serving meals at a Ronald McDonald house and painting at a homeless shelter.

Today, I give my time regularly to 3 deserving organizations that have very different missions.

Gateway Pet Guardians:

GPG rescues dogs from impoverished East St. Louis.

PJ Hightower with Gateway Pet Guardians feeding a stray dog


We have a volunteer team that feeds the dogs every day who are living on the streets. They also offers treats and love to those who are owned but neglected. We have others who focus on educating East St. Louis residents about the importance of spaying or neutering their dogs to avoid unwanted puppies. We offer free spay/neuter clinics and free dog houses for residents who have outside dogs without adequate shelter.

We rescue dogs every week from the streets and from the euthanasia list at the local animal control.

Gateway Pet Guardians gives treats to owned dogs in East St. Louis

While Gateway always needs donations, what is needed most is people who have time. People who will bring a dog into their home and love it until a permanent home can be found. People who will come to the emergency shelter to feed the dogs and take them for walks. People who will get up at daybreak to ride along on the daily feeding route in East St. Louis and hand out treats. People who will man a booth at an adoption event or who can help with the education efforts.

Just this morning, on Thanksgiving Day, we have volunteers out in the cold putting up fliers and searching for a lost 3 month old puppy who escaped from his new adopter’s home yesterday.

Lost puppy - Chili

If you live in the St. Louis region and love dogs, I would love to talk to you about how you can help Gateway.

If you live somewhere else, there are wonderful rescue groups in your area that need your help.

Sherwood Forest Camp:

Sherwood Forest Camp kids

Sherwood Forest is working to change the lives of St. Louis area low income children. While the kids have fun mastering swimming, learning to shoot an arrow and camping in the woods, the camp is really about giving them the skills to break the cycle of poverty.

The campers learn how to persevere until they master a task. They learn how to work in groups and solve problems. They learn what it means to be successful.

The camp counselors are almost all college students, and give the kids role models to follow who have chosen a different path than the people in their neighborhood. The camp has a library where kids work on their reading skills and develop a love of reading for pleasure.

Older campers develop important life skills in the leadership program which even includes visits to college campuses so they can see first-hand what life can be like if they apply themselves.

Just like GPG, the camp relies on volunteers to assist with so many functions.

Sherwood Forest Camp - construction volunteers

Volunteers that have a skill that they can share with campers come spend a week at camp in the summer. Other volunteers spend a weekend every spring using their handyman or construction skills to improve the camp buildings.

But it isn’t necessary to drive to Lesterville, MO to the campsite to help. Just yesterday I dropped off cookies for care packages for the camp’s leadership graduates who are currently attending college or serving in the military.

You see, the camp doesn’t want to just their kids to get into college, but wants them to graduate and have wonderful careers. Since these kids are often the first in their family to go to college, the camp acts as an extended family to help cheer them on through the rough times (like term paper and final season!).

Other ways to help…photographers can take pictures at the local fundraisers to help the camp with publicity needs. Office volunteers can always be used to help with things like data entry when camper applications come pouring in or mailings. And volunteers willing to help with fundraising are always needed.

There are so many ways to help Sherwood Forest Camp and other camps throughout the country with a similar mission.

National Council of Jewish Women:

I really believe in the programs supported by NCJW. The focus is on improving the lives of women and children, both locally and through national advocacy.

National Council of Jewish Woman - Back to School Store

I’ve been volunteering with NCJW in one manner or another for about 20 years. Over the years, I’ve been involved in their efforts to get women in their 20s and 30s involved. I’ve co-chaired the massive Back to School Store event twice. I’ve served on the Board of Directors and I’ve assisted with a financial literacy program.

Once of the things I like about this organization is that there are so many different ways to help. As soon as I get tired of what I’m doing, I can find another area that needs my help.

For the last few years, I’ve been volunteering at the NCJW Resale Shop.

Resale Shop before the annual Couturier Sale People waiting at the door for the annual Couturier Sale preview night

It’s a great fit for me because I know all about marketing and how to sell things from my years working as a real estate agent. I love that the staff relies on me to come in every Monday afternoon to fix up the housewares department. They let me do whatever I want with it, and it’s a lot of fun to try to make the constantly changing merchandise look as appealing as possible.

Resale Shop housewares

I enjoy knowing I make a difference by freeing up the small staff to focus on customers rather than rearranging the housewares. What I do definitely has an impact on the sales. Knowing that the money is used to fund the other programs of NCJW makes me feel like I’m playing a small part in all of the programs rather than volunteering for just one of them.

It also makes me feel good because there are political issues that I feel very strongly about, but honestly have no interest in calling my congressman or sending letters to advocate for my beliefs. Instead, I help raise money for NCJW so the team of volunteers who love political advocacy have the funds to make a difference on the issues I really care about.

NCJW has so many ways for people to volunteer. As do other similar organizations that offer programs throughout the country that help women, children and families.

Do You Volunteer?

I would love to hear about where you volunteer and why you devote your time to that organization. 

If you don’t currently volunteer anywhere, take a few minutes out of your Thanksgiving to think about how you could make a difference for those less fortunate by giving some of your time to a cause you believe in.