My daughters spent this Thanksgiving with their father. It’s his year to have them—part of the every-other-year heartbreak called “shared custody” that so many of us single parents are forced into during the holidays. The good news is, they’re mine, all mine for Christmas!
So with no daughters to cook for, no stacks of dirty dishes to scrub, and sadly, no invitations from friends, I decided this year was the perfect time to go cold turkey on this culinary holiday and volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner to homeless single mothers and their children at a local shelter.
It’s definitely a cause that resonates with me, and likely, with many of you, as well. After all, aren’t most of us just one missed paycheck or child support payment away from being in that same situation ourselves?
On my drive over to the shelter, it occurred to me that jumping in to help homeless and hungry people was quite similar to what our Native ancestors did for the newly arrived Pilgrims that later inspired that very first Thanksgiving. As reported on the Indian Country Today Media Network website this past week, there are many purported myths surrounding what really happened with the Pilgrims. But what seems to be generally accepted as historical truth is that the Pilgrims, who were desperately trying to re-nest in a strange, new land that they really had no claim to, were freezing and starving to death. To bring this paragraph full circle, they were homeless and hungry, and Native Americans showed up to help.
Savages, as they called us, showing kindness and humanity.
At the shelter, I, too, befriended strangers in need—women and children trying to weather the winter of their lives. I met a 7-year-old African American boy who was eager to help in the kitchen. It was his second time in the shelter with his mother and sister, so he knew his way around. Forty-seven-year-old Cynthia, who had lost everything to drugs and alcohol, was hoping to get a fresh start with her son. And I was humbled by the story of Chef Rosa, a Latina mother of four young boys who had finally reached a breaking point with her abusive husband and courageously fled with the kids one day, with nowhere to go but up. Four years later, Rosa lives in her own home with her sons and provides for them as a full-time cook at the restaurant owned by the shelter.
All around me were many mothers of many races from many economic backgrounds trying to survive in a brave new world. And the one thing they had in common was a shared hope for a better life.
I was amazed at the outpouring of support that day. An army of volunteers had come in earlier in the morning to cook the turkey and all the fixings. And while I was there, two donations came in—boxes of freshly harvested vegetables from a local farmer and a ton of leftover food from a nearby church that didn’t want the spoils of their Thanksgiving feast to go to waste.
There’s kindness everywhere. And no matter what side of the historical divide you stand on with the Thanksgiving story, always remember that at the heart of it, Native Americans showed compassion toward the Pilgrims, and that’s a legacy our people can be proud of.
Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer in Northern California and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.