Sign up now to volunteer this fall! Thanksgiving 2019 opportunities for you, your family, your team

You know that feeling you get when the holidays are coming up? The one that makes you so grateful for all your blessings, that you want to share them with the world?

Go with that feeling. Embrace it. Get out there and do some good for someone else, preferably with someone else. Right now, the world needs more of it and there’s never enough.

So if you’re looking for great ways to let that holiday spirit move you, see below. But first, heed some advice from those of us who’ve been doing this a few years:

  1. It’s never too early to sign up. Please sign up as early as possible because these spots fill up very quickly. Don’t wait until the week of Thanksgiving and think you’re going to get a spot. Think you’re the only one who gets that give-back feeling this time of year?
  2. Set-up and clean-up is volunteering. Not everyone is going to get to ladle gravy onto the plates. Having volunteers help with set-up and clean-up saves these nonprofits lots of money. They won’t have to hire people to do it and you help the staff finish more quickly so they can enjoy some of the holiday, too.
  3. These are great family activities, but not all of them have something for little kids. Many of these roles are big responsibilities, and participants are required to be mostly 14 or 18 and older.
  4. There aren’t many opportunities to volunteer on Thanksgiving Day. That’s mostly because, while it’s a fun way to spend your holiday, it would be a workday for nonprofit employees who would have to support you. And everyone deserves to be with their families on Thanksgiving Day.
  5. Couldn’t get a volunteer spot? Adopt a nonprofit staff. As a former nonprofit staff person, let me tell you … we don’t make a lot. A delivery of lunch, a box of pumpkin spice donuts, a fruit basket, Tiff’s Treats, pizza… I’m telling you, you surprise a nonprofit staff – usually only about 5-10 people – with a meal or treat, that totally counts as changing the world.

See this list of Thanksgiving volunteering opportunities — listed in chronological order — and sign up soon. These popular events fill up fast!

EL BUEN SAMARITANO:   Fundraising now, volunteer opportunities early November

Every year, El Buen provides a Thanksgiving meal to more than 1,000 families, but they do it a little differently than most: They provide the groceries to the family so they can prepare it themselves.

El Buen believes in helping families acculturate to this American holiday by providing them with all the ingredients they need for a traditional Thanksgiving meal — a turkey, pie, canned vegetables, and all the trimmings. After all, eating the meal is only part of the holiday — prepping and cooking it is part of the experience — and it allows the family to enjoy the meal, and each other, at home.

DONATE: Right now, El Buen is asking for donations. Just $20 will provide a full Thanksgiving meal for one family.  And right now, all donations are being matched 2:1 by the Moody Foundation. So your $20 donation before November 17 for one family will actually provide a Thanksgiving meal and leftovers for three families. You can donate here.

VOLUNTEER: Stay tuned here to sign up to volunteer in November and help register families and hand out groceries. Visit El Buen Samaritano and for more information contact Jessica at or 512.439.8907.

food bank sorting

CENTRAL TEXAS FOOD BANK: October – November 23

Families come together over the holiday, which means their food needs increase. Food pantries and service agencies play a vital role is providing these families the food they need to fill the gaps, and Central Texas Food Bank serves 300 of them throughout 21-counties.

In the weeks before Thanksgiving, volunteer to sort food donations at the Food Bank to prepare for distribution through its partner agencies across Central Texas. Warehouse volunteers help ensure all of the food we distribute is safe, healthy and high quality by inspecting, cleaning, sorting, boxing and making food donations ready for distribution.

Volunteer shifts are typically 2 ½ to three hours long and are available Monday through Saturday. Each shift can host up to 120 volunteers, with limited space for youth volunteers, ages 8 years old and older.

VOLUNTEER: Sign up and view available shifts at CTFB’s sign-up page.

generation serve


Generation Serve will host its third-annual Family Volunteer Day at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex. The event will be a free, city-wide event for families to come to learn more about our community’s needs and sample service projects in eight different service areas like animal welfare, environment, helping people, helping kids, helping seniors, health and wellness, and more.

Activities will vary by service area, but Generation Serves says the event is a chance for families new to volunteering to “sample” service activities rather than the organization’s usual, hours-long projects. The idea is to sample service activities around the room that meet the needs of nonprofit organizations from all over Austin.

VOLUNTEER: Families must pre-register for a specific shift at


With almost 20,000 people participating, the Thundercloud five-mile race is one of the largest Turkey Trots in the country! All proceeds benefit Caritas of Austin, which supports local refugees, low-income and homeless people. ThunderCloud has raised more than $3.5 million for Caritas since the event began in 1991.

Of course, you can sign up to run five miles on Thanksgiving morning, but the event  needs more than 650 volunteers, too. Sign up to help with packet distribution, man a water table at the race and more.

VOLUNTEER: Visit the event page to sign up. Sots are filling up fast!

austin empty bowl


The Austin Empty Bowl Project is the perfect combination of art, food and community, and it all benefits the children’s hunger programs at Central Texas Food Bank and Meals on Wheels and More. Attendees purchase a handcrafted bowl for $20, local restaurants fill it with soup and you stay and enjoy the music. Plus you get to keep the bowl!

Volunteers on the day-of must be at least 16 years old and be willing to spend at least two hours working at the event. For potters, your bowls must conform to certain specifications; they also ask that you complete a donation form.

DONATE: Potters are invited to create and donate a bowl, but they must be delivered the Friday before the event Nov. 22, or, if you’re running behind, you can bring them directly to the food bank by 4 pm the day before the vent.  If you’re not a potter but you’d still like to contribute a bowl, visit one of the participating pottery studios before November 17 and let them know you’d like to decorate a bowl to be donated to the Empty Bowl Project. Great for families and groups.

VOLUNTEER: Volunteer sign-up was not available at the time of this post, but we’ll update it when it is. In the meantime, make a note to yourself to not miss this event.

HEB Feast of Sharing photo by Arlen Nydam

H-E-B FEAST OF SHARING: November 20.

Feast of Sharing, taking place at the Palmer Events Center, is the largest community Thanksgiving meal in Austin. H-E-B provides 14,000 meals to hungry Austinites with the help of 1,400 volunteers who plate and serve food, do crafts with children in attendance, and many other tasks. All volunteers should expect to be up and moving around for their whole shift, and many jobs require carrying trays of food or drinks.

Volunteers must be 14 years old or older. Some tasks require a minimum age of 18. All volunteers must sign up individually through beginning on October 11th. People can volunteer either 3-6:30pm or 6-9pm.

VOLUNTEER: All the information about parking, minimum ages, and volunteer roles – plus the sign-up form – is available at the United Way Volunteer site. 

operation turkey


One of the most popular volunteering opportunities at any time of the year, Operation Turkey empowers people of all ages to help make sure everyone is Austin get a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. Volunteer to make, package, and/or deliver a traditional meal to people experiencing homelessness across Central Texas, from Round Rock and Cedar Park to Austin and San Marcos.

There is no age limit to volunteer and everyone is encouraged to help.

DONATE: Every $5 donation feeds two people, and this year’s goal is to serve 50,000 people in 15 locations across the country. Make your donation online.

HOW TO SIGN UP: Sign up to volunteer the day before Thanksgiving or the day of by visiting Operation Turkey.



Each year, Meals on Wheels has hundreds of home-bound Austin clients signed up to signed up to receive holiday meals. Not only are you delivering their Thanksgiving meal , but you are also giving them the comfort and company everyone should have on Thanksgiving. Great for families and friends, sign up to deliver as many meals that day as you can handle.

HOW TO SIGN UP:  Volunteers will need to a driver’s license and more. Register now to make sure you’re ready on Thanksgiving day. Learn more here.

Did we miss any this year? Please share with us in the comments below. There are new volunteer opportunities every year, so please help us keep this list as thorough as possible!