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Volunteers Give Meaning to Thanksgiving

The American holiday of Thanksgiving began as a harvest celebration and is intended as a day for families to get together and reflect on their good fortune. For many today Thanksgiving means eating too much turkey, watching too much football and the beginning of the Christmas shopping season

This is the busiest week of the year at Food and Friends, an organization in Washington, DC, that provides meals to those with life threatening illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.

The staff and volunteers here are preparing more than 3,500 Thanksgiving dinners complete with turkey, cranberry sauce and potato salad. The cook says the feast will feed about 400 people.

Chef Vincent Muia says every year preparing these elaborate Thanksgiving meals challenges the capacity of this volunteer food service operation. "The amount of food that we are purchasing, the amount that has to get done in three to four days, the amount of volunteers that are coming through here, the sheer volume of everything that is taking place to get Thursday done."

To get Thursday done, Food and Friends relies on volunteers to prepare the meals, such as retired teacher Marlene Hoffman. "Because people need help and I got time."

And Debby Greenstein, who has been volunteering here for 13 years. "Aside from the fact that the mission's really important, providing nutrition to people who are sick is a way of either helping them get well. I just have a good time here and they've become part of my family and you get leftovers."

These volunteers say they get a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of purpose from helping others. Most of these volunteers do not see the people they help. But Nancy Sahli does. "There are people I deliver to, who know they are going to die."

Nancy Sahli is retired from the federal government and has been making deliveries for Food and Friends for the last two years.

"I think what you need to expect is not so much a frailty of condition but a real affirmation of the human spirit. That's one of the things that really keeps me going in this the common humanity I have with each one of these people."

Today she is taking bringing a Thanksgiving meal to Mary Buck, who is too ill to leave her home. "I was in the cancer clinic, that's why I've been getting these meals from Food and Friends because I've been in the cancer clinic."

Charities in America, such as Food and Friends, see a surge of volunteerism during Thanksgiving. They hope some volunteers, such as Nancy Salhi, will continue to give of themselves after the holidays end.