List of 2016 Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities, for groups, families, individuals

Volunteering on or around Thanksgiving Day is crazy popular, so much so that if you don’t sign up early enough, you might miss out. And even if you do sign up, you might arrive to find so many volunteers, that there isn’t much left for you to do. Something about all that food, all that gratitude placed in front of you on a table like that… it makes you realize you have enough to share.

The good news is you don’t have to wait until the actual Thanksgiving Day to volunteer and make a difference. Yes, all of these volunteer opportunities are popular, but you’ll have a better chance of getting in your group for a great experience if you pick something earlier in the month.

Most of these are family and group friendly, too, so make sure you take everyone. What a great holiday memory you’ll have… and maybe you’ll even make it a tradition.


el-buen-bags-by-monicaEL BUEN SAMARITANO:   November 5 – 12

This Thanksgiving project is a little different than the rest.

El Buen offers culturally and linguistically appropriate services to about 12,000 Latino families a year in Central Texas, by offering affordable healthcare, family literacy and food assistance. 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 acculturae 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.

El Buen needs volunteers ages 12 and up to assist in registering families on November 5th and 12th from 8 AM – 12 PM. As a client advocate, you will provide a friendly registration experience for clients who would like to receive a meal and you will help us better track the impact on families served.

Plus, here’s the best part: You will see first-hand the enormous gratitude and happiness on the faces of people as they receive food to celebrate their Thanksgiving. Volunteer gold!

HOW TO SIGN UP: Visit El Buen Samaritano and for more information contact Jessica at or 512.439.8907
food bank sortingCENTRAL TEXAS FOOD BANK: October – November 23, Shift days/times: Monday – Saturday, 9am – 12pm & 1:30 – 4:30pm, with additional shifts on Tuesday/Thursday from 6 – 8:30pm

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.

HOW TO SIGN UP: Sign up and view available shifts at CTFB’s sign-up page.


austin empty bowl


One of the first of its kind in Texas, the Austin Empty Bowl Project was founded in 1997 and has grown in both the number of bowls from local potters and the number of attendees. It’s 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.

HOW TO SIGN UP: Volunteer sign-up was nota 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 NydamH-E-B FEAST OF SHARING: November 22, 3-9pm

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.

HOW TO SIGN UP: All the information about parking, minimum ages, and volunteer roles will be available at Hands On Central Texas on October 11th when sign up begins.



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 $2.5 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.

HOW TO SIGN UP: Use a handy sign-up tool to claim your spot.


operation turkey


Operation Turkey is a grass-roots volunteer organization that serves the homeless and less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day. Each Thanksgiving, Operation Turkey organizes local teams of volunteers throughout a community to cook, prepare, package and deliver thousands of hot meals and provide other necessities to people in need.

Operation Turkey started in 2000 with one meal delivered in Austin by one man. In 2015, the organization provided 30,000 meals in ten cities, in five states, with the help of 10,000 volunteers across America. The organization is 100% volunteer, with no paid employees, allowing all funds raised to go toward the cost of preparing, packaging, and delivering meals. Operation Turkey is continuing its growth and expects to provide 40,000 meals to the homeless and less fortunate in 2016.

There is no age limit to volunteer and everyone is encouraged to help. Volunteers are needed at Third Base on Hwy 183 the day before Thanksgiving to help smoke more than 600 turkeys and collect, sort, and distribute donations of clothing and care packages. On Thanksgiving Day, volunteers are needed at P.F. Chang’s (north and downtown) and Guero’s Taco Bar from 8am until noon to prepare, package, and deliver food to the homeless and less fortunate.

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.


Here are a few others that don’t have information available yet or are already full:

GOBBLE GOBBLE GIVE:  No word yet on their activities, but stay tuned.

SALVATION ARMY, serving meals on Thanksgiving Day and the day before. This opportunity is so hot, it’s already full!

CARITAS, its Community Kitchen serves on Thanksgiving Day and always needs volunteers.

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!

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