2020 represents a year fraught with hardship and unique challenges. And yet, Americans from across the country are going out of their way to spread kindness and cheer this Thanksgiving.
From a 10-year-old boy collecting meals for those in need to a professor cooking for her students so that they don’t feel alone, here are six stories exemplifying humanity’s goodness this Thanksgiving:
1. Grandma Celebrates Fifth Thanksgiving with Young Man She Met by Accident
Four years ago, an Arizona grandma meant to text her grandson an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. But Wanda Dench accidentally messaged a stranger instead: Jamal Hinton, then a 17-year-old high school senior.
“You not my grandma,” he texted back. “Can I still get a plate though?”
Wanda responded, “Of course you can” because “That's what grandmas do ... feed everyone!”
That moment sparked a years-long friendship, where they now celebrate Thanksgiving together every year. But this year promised to be different: Wanda’s husband of 42 years, Lonnie, passed away in April after testing positive for the coronavirus. Wanda and Jamal still met for Thanksgiving – this time a little early, on November 20.
“I wasn't looking forward to it at first because Lonnie wasn't going to be there,” Wanda told CNN, but “this was really important to me.”
“At first it was sad,” Jamal agreed. “We had a photo of Lonnie at the table with a candle lit, and we were all shaky in the beginning but it lasted five minutes before we were back to ourselves.”
He added, “We just told jokes and stories and shared our memories of Lonnie.”
“I always remember Lonnie looking at the bright side of things,” Jamal revealed to the New York Times. “He would want us to celebrate his life instead of hating Covid and hating everything.”
2. 10-Year-Old Boy Aims to Donate 100,000 Meals by Thanksgiving
Orion Jean, a fifth grader from Texas, is starting his own “Race to Kindness Initiative” – and it’s a race he’s winning.
“When you look at all of the bad news and all of the things that are happening, you just want to see something that would make you smile for once,” Orion told a local ABC affiliate.
His goal, right now, is to collect 100,000 meals by Thanksgiving. And he’s well on his way. WFAA reported that Orion had already gathered 42,523 meals by Friday.
“Kindness matters,” the 10-year-old stressed. “And no matter what you are, no matter who you are, you can spread kindness to anyone.”
3. Professor Offers to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner for Students
An Iowa professor’s offer to share her Thanksgiving meal went viral on social media after one of her students shared an email she wrote on Twitter.
“I know this has been a difficult time for a lot of you – some of you have had Covid, some of you are currently in quarantine, and some of you may not be able to go home for Thanksgiving as you have family members who are socially distancing,” Liz Pearce, a communications professor at the University of Iowa, wrote to her students. “I don’t want anyone to feel alone at Thanksgiving, or to miss out on a homecooked family dinner, so I want to invite you to share my Thanksgiving dinner.”
“I’ve talked with my kids and we would be happy to make extra portions of everything and drop it by your apartment,” she continued. “I truly want you to take me up on this offer if you are in town.”
According to Fox News, Professor Pearce is now offering to cook for all the majors in her department – up to 600 students.
“Since it went viral, the only thing that changed was me,” she urged, “it made me realize just how hungry people are, not for food but for a bit of good news. It showed me how raw and vulnerable we all are.”
4. New Yorkers Send Cards to Nursing Home Residents
Five New Yorkers decided to “bring happiness to nursing home residents during this holiday season,” New York station WKTV reported on November 20. They began their project this summer by collecting cards from across the country to deliver to residents – and have since reached 21 nursing homes with 2,800 cards.
Theresa Girouard organized the effort with four of her friends to bring cheer to the elderly. They call their group, “Nursing Home Hellos from the Heart.”
“When Covid came around, my father used to be in a nursing home, I also do guardianship work so I know a lot of elderly people in the homes,” Theresa said, “and my heart broke.”
"We've gotten so many responses from the nursing homes as to how it made the residents feel,” she added. “Like, ‘This is for me? Wow!’ I mean some never get any mail, any responses, and it made such a difference.”
5. High School Students Donate 80 Turkeys to Veterans
Students from St. Augustine High School in Laredo, Texas partnered with Volunteers Serving the Need, a non-profit serving veterans, to raise money and gather 80 turkeys for veteran families, KGNS News reported.
“These are the people that put their life on the line so that we can have a life in the first place,” Hector Agustin Degollado, a senior, told the local news outlet.
6. Families Deliver Food to Families in Need
Hundreds of volunteers recently helped deliver meals to 2,500 families in Utah, as a part of an annual Thanksgiving's Heroes food drive, KSL reported.
Lance Bush, along with his daughter and her boyfriend, was a part of the effort. He was inspired, he said, by friends who helped him and his family over the holidays last year, when he struggled with colon cancer.
“Just being able to be a part of something giving the love back — and giving people something to smile about this holiday — it's really why we're into it,” he said. “You've got a lot of people out there who are dealing with things they don't understand or can't explain, and I think that we've got to give back.”