Traditionally, we stress the word "thanks" in "Thanksgiving." But for many each year, the stress is always on "giving."
And this year it's been "giving" with a twist.
"I'm seeing little notes, like God Bless America, on people's gifts this year," says Philip Arena, director of development for the Salt Lake City Mission. "In their hearts, I think people have a greater appreciation for Thanksgiving."
There is some concern. For the moment, donations are down.
"I think people gave and gave and gave after New York," explains Kathy Scott, community development director for the Salvation Army. "Donations were down 34 percent in September. But things are improving. And I think getting the bell ringers out this week will help."
Indeed, there are encouraging signs. Already, a great deal of goodwill is spilling into the streets. Several churches, organizations and even private restaurants have planned meals for the hungry next week some for the first time.
And many who aren't supplying a building where the needy can go are going out to the needy. Groups like LifeCare, the Crossroads Urban Center, the Community Action Program, Eagle Ranch and the Utah AIDS Foundation will all be out taking food, gifts and friendship to the homes of shut-ins, out-patients and the elderly while other groups are setting up tables with a full Thanksgiving spread, like the annual feast at the Greek Orthodox Church.
"We are always inundated with people from the community wanting to help," says Aleka Pratt. "And this year is no different. It's always very rewarding."
The dinner at the church (279 S. 300 West) will begin at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and go until everyone has eaten. Along with roasting up 110 turkeys, the church will have clothing and personal hygiene packets on hand. In the past, flu shots have also been available as well as free long-distance calls provided by local telephone companies.
"We're expecting about 2,000 people to show up," says Pratt.
The Salt Lake City Mission will hold its annual meal at the Delta Center again with the Utah Jazz organization, under the direction of Larry Miller, throwing the feed on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 11 a.m.
"It's always a first-class bash with white linen on the tables," says Arena. "And it's not just for the homeless. We go to retirement homes and other areas to get people to bring to dinner. I've worked in other missions, like the Bowery in New York, and have never had things so completely supplied. It's a real blessing."
On Thanksgiving Day itself, the shelter (370 S. 300 East) will offer meals throughout the day, beginning with breakfast at 8:30 a.m. For information call 355-6310.
Private restaurants, ranging from Maddox Ranch House in Box Elder County to the Hard Rock Cafe in Trolley Square, will also offer a turkey dinner. The meal at the Hard Rock will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
The Skaggs Catholic Center (300 E. 11800 South) will also be offering a Thanksgiving meal.
Despite a lull in early interest, generosity is beginning to kick in. The Volunteer Center says most Thanksgiving events are fully staffed with volunteers. And the Utah Food Bank is starting to stock the shelves again.
" I think of us as diamond miners," says the Salt Lake City Mission's Arena. "When you go into a diamond mine you don't see anything special. It's all in the rough. And there is an extraordinary treasure chest of diamonds in the rough among the homeless of Utah."
He pauses to collect a thought.
"What we want is for the homeless to feel at home, at least for Thanksgiving."Anyone interested in volunteering for community service work during the holidays should call the Volunteer Center at 1-800-250-SERVE.