Writing for a Cause — Project Give!
Want to get involved with a special project this Thanksgiving? Help me as I deliver food to homebound seniors in New York City on Thanksgiving Day. Being a part of this special event is easy. Inspire your students to create handmade cards and write special messages that will lift spirits and spread joy throughout New York City. Find out how "Project Give" got started and learn about ways you can get your students to write for a cause!
Creating a New Thanksgiving Tradition
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Spending an entire day surrounded by my family and close friends is a treasured gift. Add some stuffing, zucchini bread, and warm apple pie, and it’s a dream come true!
Four years ago, I decided to break my Thanksgiving tradition. I thought about how lucky I was to have so much to be thankful for. I knew that there were those who didn’t have quite as much. I had always thought about serving food to people in need on Thanksgiving Day, and I finally decided to put my plan into action. However, it didn’t turn out quite the way I expected.
After a little research, I came across Project FIND, an organization with a mission to provide low- and moderate-income and homeless seniors with services and support they need to enrich their lives and live independently. They were hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for 1,200 seniors in the heart of New York City and needed servers. I was thrilled to help out. When I spoke with Debra Escort, director of special projects, she offered me a different volunteer opportunity. She explained that each year, she was fortunate to find enough volunteers to help out with serving. Where she really needed help was with the delivery of hot food to homebound seniors. These were seniors who couldn’t make it out to the different dining halls around the city for this event. Many of them would be home alone on Thanksgiving.
Then she asked me a question that would change my holiday tradition forever. “Danielle, would you consider being a driver on Thanksgiving?” She explained that there would be 300 homebound seniors waiting for the delivery of a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day. Without drivers, they would go hungry, as most support services would be closed for the holiday.
She informed me that along with the hot meal, I would also be delivering a gift bag to the seniors. “A gift bag?” I thought, “How exciting!” When I heard what was inside, I almost cried. Debra explained to me that the gift was food.
You see, inside each gift bag was an assortment of dry goods — food that could be prepared for the next day. Most support services would continue to be closed on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Without this “gift,” the seniors would go hungry. With a lump in my throat, I agreed to become a driver that year, and I've been a volunteer driver with Project FIND ever since.
Putting Plans Into Action
I came across Cynthia Rylant’s book An Angel for Solomon Singer, which was the perfect read-aloud to set up the card making project. The main character, Solomon Singer, is a lonely man, living in a run-down hotel for men in New York City. In addition to reading the book, I also showed the children the faces of some of the seniors on Project FIND’s home page.
Over the course of a few days, my 2nd graders thoughtfully wrote 50 heartwarming cards to the seniors. We tried hard not to say things like, "Sorry you’re alone on Thanksgiving," as we figured that those words wouldn’t really help with cheering them up! Instead, we brainstormed some ideas. We wrote a little bit about ourselves, described our plans for Thanksgiving, and sent the seniors messages of friendship and love. The end result was beautiful.
With the cards in hand, I set out to New York City on Thanksgiving morning. I dodged Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade traffic and watched as the floats made their way across 57th street and down Broadway. (See Dora and Hello Kitty below!)
With a special permit, I crossed police road blocks and made it to The Church of St. Paul the Apostle, where dinner was being cooked for the homebound seniors. I was speechless and honored to be a part of this amazing day. I entered a large room filled with gift bags and instantly felt inspired. Seeing all of the bags lined up, one behind the next, really put things into perspective.
I carefully tucked the cards inside the gift bags before the delivery and then off we went.
Photos below: Here I am with my good friend Maritza on Thanksgiving of last year. We filled the trunk of her car up with Thanksgiving goodies and were ready to start delivering!
The response from the seniors was overwhelming. In a letter from Project FIND, Debra Escort writes:
"Please thank your students for us. The seniors who received your cards last year were so grateful. When we make home visits, we still see the cards somewhere on their walls or somewhere nearby. Any amount of cards your group can donate is very much appreciated by all."
Wow! The seniors kept the cards up on the walls of their tiny apartments, long after Thanksgiving was over? Incredible. I knew that the following year, our card making project would have to be bigger and better! And so, over the next two years, I invited my amazing teacher friends and their students to be a part of this special mission. Together we created over 1,000 cards that were delivered along with the hot meals.
Now, here’s where you come in! This will be my fourth year delivering food, and I need your help. This year, I am calling our mission "Project Give." Won’t you help me fill each and every gift bag with at least two homemade cards from a student who cares? In addition, we can add a card to the table settings at the dining halls around the city, allowing over 1,000 seniors to know that they are not alone this Thanksgiving.
With your help, they will have many friends from around the world who are thinking of them.
To understand the true importance of this mission, please read about one special senior named Beverly, who truly touched our hearts in an editorial, "Giving Is a Privilege," which was featured in the Queens Gazette in 2008.
What should your cards include?
- Greeting: "Dear Friend" or "Dear Senior."
- Start by having your students introduce themselves, but please leave out last names.
- Encourage students to write about their favorite book or favorite sport.
- Students can write about their favorite subject in school or about their favorite activity.
- Students can tell their senior to enjoy the delicious meal and know that they are not alone.
- Please include a bright illustration.
- Get creative!
- Have fun!
Here are a few examples of cards made across grades:
Are you ready to help?! Thanksgiving is just a month away. Collect as many cards as you can from your students over the next few weeks. Share this post via email or on your Facebook page and invite your teacher friends to get involved as well. Ask your principal, the school secretaries and librarian, the custodians, the parents, and anyone else you can think of to write out a card and include those, too! Whether you send one card, or a class set of 30, your efforts will be truly appreciated. Thank you for writing for a cause. Place your completed cards in a large envelope and mail them to me by November 15th.
Please mail your cards to:
c/o Miss Mahoney
34-25 82nd Street
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Here’s to a very happy Thanksgiving.