Four new ways to celebrate Thanksgiving and give back this year

Create new Thanksgiving traditions to reflect the times

Thanksgiving has been a longstanding tradition in Canada. But as the ongoing issue of systemic racism demands we think critically about our own actions while the climate emergency asks us to consider the planet in all that we do, perhaps it is time to consider whether or not our current traditions demand a rethink.

Thanksgiving usually kick-starts the holiday season, and it’s the beginning of the busiest time of year for most charity organizations. The food drives, collection baskets and free meals initiatives that have been working hard over the past few months come to fruition when the weather turns colder and the need increases.

Although there are plenty of stresses and issues we all need to grapple with on the daily in Toronto, there is also an opportunity to forge new paths and create new traditions with our families that reflect the times and the true meaning of giving thanks — and giving back.

Respect to Indigenous Peoples

The history of Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t the same as our neighbours to the south, but its roots do come from an Indigenous tradition of giving thanks and is marred with this country’s history of colonization of its first residents. We need to pay respect to those who were here first and in whose territories we continue to live and prosper.

Learn: Spend an afternoon with your family and get to know the Indigenous communities upon whose land your household is located. For instance, Toronto is home to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. What can we learn from these First Nations that we can apply to our own lives? How would they give thanks?

Volunteer: Take the time to learn about issues affecting Indigenous communities in the GTA and across Canada. Some Indigenous communities welcome volunteers throughout the year and especially during the holiday season. Find out if there’s an opportunity for you to help out this year by checking the Canada Helps website.

Donate: Help support Indigenous communities by donating food, money or clothing to kids and women that need both tangible and monetary donations. You can contact the Native Women’s Resource Centre of Toronto to find out where you can donate. Also check out the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, along with Toronto Indigenous Harm Reduction.

Consume: Consider shopping at Indigenous-owned businesses and even incorporating Indigenous cuisine into your holiday meals.

A high-five for the planet

Neighbourhood cleanup: Giving praise to the planet on Thanksgiving may seem odd, but it’s actually a great way to say “thanks” for all the Earth does (especially since it takes so much of our abuse). How do you give back to the planet on Thanksgiving? One way is to organize a neighbourhood cleanup of masks and gloves and other discarded debris (make sure to wear proper safety gear while cleaning).

Save a duck or turkey or other feathered friend: Why not turn the tables and save a turkey or duck or other feathered friend on Thanksgiving? Animal shelters and farm sanctuaries across the province can always use donations. You can also sign up for an Adopt-A-Turkey program and save a bird from slaughter.

Avoid excess waste: Billions of dollars in uneaten food is thrown away every Thanksgiving. You can cut down on this waste by only cooking what you intend to eat, avoiding buying too much of any one thing, making an effort to only use reusable plates and napkins and donating any extra food to people in need.

Support local businesses

Now more than ever, we should be supporting local businesses. If you usually buy your Thanksgiving ingredients from the local supermarket, see what you can find locally.

Vegetables from Toronto Urban Growers: Find a local urban farmer to purchase vegetables and other local goodies. You can track down the closest source to you by visiting the Toronto Urban Growers website. Not only will you be supporting local commerce, you’ll also find that fresh produce can’t be beat.

Turkeys from local farmers: Order a turkey from a local farm this year and skip the guilt that can come with buying a commercially farmed bird. There are lots of farmers surrounding the GTA that will be happy to take your order.

Support Black businesses: There are so many excellent Black-owned businesses in the GTA. Support Black-owned commerce by finding what you need on the Afro Biz website.

Give to those in need

Scott Mission: Hot meals have been served up at Scott Mission (502 Spadina Ave.) for 52 years. From Monday to Saturday, free meals are available at the mission, and staff confirm that Thanksgiving will be no exception — they’re currently preparing 60 turkeys for the meal!

Haven Toronto: This sanctuary for elder homeless men will be serving a Thanksgiving meal on Monday as well as every day of the year, and they’re always looking for donations (and possibly volunteers). Thanksgiving is one of the weekends when volunteers show up the most, though, so if they don’t need your help this weekend, consider making a donation and checking back when it’s not the holidays to see how you can help.

Good Shepherd: The Thanksgiving Food Drive for the Homeless is a great way to give back. Good Shepherd Ministries will help you organize your own food drive and show you how to support the homeless during the holiday season and throughout the rest of the year. Visit the Good Shepherd website to help.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO