Thanksgiving means many things.
Turkey! Stuffing! My mother's apple and pomegranate salad! Pumpkin pie!
But for my family, Thanksgiving means more than a big meal of delicious food.
For the past 12 years, we have all piled into the car and headed off to a local senior center, where we load the car with turkey dinners and all the trimmings.
We would then drive -- all of us, or as many as could fit -- around town, delivering these meals to homebound seniors.
We began this holiday tradition years ago -- after a terrible time in our lives -- when my kids were having a pity party about how cruelly life had treated them. Yes, we had had to sell our house and move to "lesser" digs. Yes, we had to count our pennies. But also yes, we had a roof over our heads and food on our table and the love of family to keep us warm.
At that time, I sought a project that would remind them how precious life is and how lucky they still were ... and are. A tradition was born.
Which brings us to this year, when I was regrettably late in answering the call at the senior center. So many people have jumped on the volunteer bandwagon that their roster of drivers was full. There was no room for us.
So I consulted the internet to find another appropriate give-and-you-shall-receive project to continue to remind my children that, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we have much to be grateful for.
And boy, did I find one.
Every year, this one organization collects food, clothing, toiletries, whatever they can get their hands on. They gather in a rather unsavory part of town, where they put together meals; ziplock bags of toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, toothpaste; and bags of shirts, jackets, pants, beanies, whatever else comes their way.
They then load it all into the cars of willing volunteers who drive around the area and offer all of the above to people living on the streets.
This was a memorable experience, let me tell you.
We started out intending to volunteer to pack meals in the assembly line and ended up in the line to receive a load of Thanksgiving meals in our trunk.
Yes, Wonderhubby, the Roo-girl, Z-man, Drummer and I spent several hours driving around in parts of town where I never ever go on purpose, looking for people on the street who might be hungry and in need.
It wasn't as easy as you might think, since there are armies of people setting up tables in parks and on city streets to deliver meals to the homeless. Many of the people we saw were already carrying styrofoam boxes filled with holiday food.
Also, as we drove around, we had to carefully assess who was truly homeless, as opposed to those who just might be truly weird.
"Oh," said Drummer, putting it all in perspective in his inimitable way, "so ... we're profiling."
We laughed out loud after he said that, but actually, we truly were profiling, in a way -- assessing the people we saw based on attire, hair, posture and whether they were pushing a grocery cart filled with "treasure."
The first time we found someone we knew would need what we had to offer, Wonderhubby pulled the car over, and we all looked at each other. No one moved.
"Pffffft," I said, opening my door and getting out of the car.
"Pffffft," said Roo, literally climbing over her brothers to get out of the back seat and out of the car.
The two of us together approached the man with food and toiletries in hand.
"Are you hungry," Roo asked the man. "Would you like some food for Thanksgiving?"
"Yes," the man said, as we reached forward and handed him our wares. "Thank you so much."
"You have a very good Thanksgiving, my friend," said my daughter to the bedraggled man.
"Thank God there are people like you in the world," said the man to my daughter.
Roo and I walked back to the car together and smiled at each other.
We delivered all of our meals. Roo and I did the heavy lifting, but the hours we spent in the car as a family driving around on our quest were as meaningful as the act of charity itself.
Later, we had our own Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. But our own full bellies were not nearly as important as the bellies we had filled that morning.