When Abraham Lincoln proposed a national celebration of Thanksgiving in response to a recommendation from editor Sarah Josephine Hale, unlike most holidays recognized in the United States it was never meant as a celebration linked to any specific religious tradition.
In his proclamation he called for a day spent in giving thanks for “the gracious gifts of the Most High God”, and “that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.” (Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, October 3, 1863) Thanksgiving is one holiday in the US welcoming celebration by every American – from all walks of life, all ethnicities, and every (or no) faith tradition. Reflecting on our blessings during such a wonderful holiday, it seems natural to find kind things to do for others – He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
Many people find themselves without the means to celebrate this wonderful day in the manner we may hope, and this provided an opportunity for Pacifica Institute Utah to organize an event at which members of the Gulen or Hizmet Movement excel – gathering people of many backgrounds together uniting us in service for our neighbors in need.
This year the service arm of Pacifica Institute Utah – Talk in Action – coordinated with Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake-Lied Club. We cooked and served a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with all the trimmings to teenagers of area families who otherwise would never have had the chance for such a meal. Local pantries and food stores donated supplies while Pacifica Utah’s Talk in Action directed volunteers to cook and serve a wonderful meal to many hungry and grateful teenagers.
When we arrived, we found several turkeys still partially frozen, and we only had a few hours to prepare the food! Luckily the first volunteer on site specialized in cooking for large groups of 100 or more in her Presbyterian congregation and she directed the food preparation. As we came closer to serving time another volunteer from Cavalry Baptist in Salt Lake City – used to organizing volunteers serving 300 to 700 needy people every Sunday – arrived to coordinate our own volunteer servers. Zeynep and Pres. Coskun Kariparduc of Pacifica Institute Utah reached out to interfaith friends and neighbors in the greater Salt Lake area and whole families showed up to help lend a hand. This was wonderful as we found out we were actually going to serve two complete meals!
Volunteers came from as far as fifty miles away and were drawn from every background. We had an oncology surgeon, an interfaith fundraiser, several teachers with their students and children, students from an area college, and even a homeless man who came to help out. From eight-year-olds to retirees every generation was represented, as well as many faith traditions – all in all a truly wonderful cross section of the American population.
Everyone who came ate their fill, and after serving, the younger volunteers played games with the grateful teenagers who were able to enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast.
People of every faith share the bond of a delightful burden – the desire to serve those around them. Mohammed taught that “even a smile to your brother is charity” – a sentiment echoed in every faith tradition – and every volunteer working with Pacifica Institute Utah’s Talk in Action definitely served with a smile to all those in need.
As we were leaving, exhausted and happy, the gratitude expressed by those we served mingled with the gratitude we expressed for the opportunity – and all of us came away the richer for the experience.