Why being thankful should include giving back

Shae Slaughter

The semester is winding down, and I think I speak for all students when I say, “Thank goodness.” College is hard, plain and simple, but we’re lucky to be here. As we approach Thanksgiving break, I think it’s important to remember to be thankful for all of the opportunities that we have been given. More than that, I think we should all take some time to give back to those who are less fortunate than we are. 

The holiday season is rife with opportunities to give back. Even the simplest of actions can make a big difference. Over the course of the last few years, my family has made a habit of delivering Thanksgiving meals to families in need. It’s something little—it takes only a few hours—but I think it still matters. 

There is something about adding a little more compassion and a little more empathy to the world that changes everything. We don’t have enough of these things. The world seems to still look down on those who are disadvantaged or struggling. Instead, we should be helping to level the playing field. 

I distinctly remember delivering a good portion of the meals we were given last year to just one of the houses on our list. When we knocked on the door, a handful of children answered. Their smiles were toothy and full of excitement. These young children reached out their arms for the meals, uttering sincere “thank-yous.”

On one level, my heart was full and warm for these children, and on another level it was broken. It is so easy for people to forget about those who are unlike us and those who are struggling. It is difficult for many people to empathize with this life if it isn’t their own. I can even see myself becoming disconnected as I surround myself with other college students. At a glance, life seems pretty easy here. 

I am a firm believer in the idea that is hard to imagine more than one level of living above you and one level of living below you. For example, if you grew up in a middle-class family, it will take some work to fully understand those who are impoverished. This explains the disconnect between compassion and the real world. I don’t think I have to convince you to care about other people, but rather that there are many lifestyles that are very far removed from your own.

As a child, I never went hungry, and I am incredibly lucky to have never faced that problem. I did not need to receive Thanksgiving meals. I never felt disadvantaged as a child, and I don’t now, either. 

Still, people I meet who come from middle- or upper-class families feel shocked and bad as I recount my youth because I had free school lunches and donated Christmas presents or because our phone was shut off on occasion and we got most of our clothes from Goodwill. But my life was still far better than many.

There are so many different people out there and so many different types of lives. No two are the same, but I think it is important to try to give back to those who are less fortunate than you. I urge you to open your eyes to the people around you. Even the simplest acts can change a life.