Debbie Englert and Audrey Taranda of Boynton Beach serve meals to people in need at the Soup Kitchen of Boynton Beach, which on a typical day feeds about 400. The group also uses volunteers to distribute food for the holiday. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Helpers describe why giving back is a tradition for them

By Margie Plunkett

What could be better than a golden turkey and all the sides on Thanksgiving? Add an act of kindness and it’s a perfect day.

Thanksgiving is a popular day for volunteering, as charitable organizations host dinners and fundraisers, and many people get in the spirit of giving back. Volunteer opportunities come in many forms, from serving guests or walking dogs to helping out at the annual Turkey Trot. Charitable organizations value volunteers, noting that they’re critical for the nonprofits’ existence. But beyond Thanksgiving, there are 364 more days in the year that volunteers are needed.

Dale Pratt and her family, of Boca Raton, have been volunteering on Thanksgiving for about a decade. At the start, “I didn’t expect how much we would get out of this, how good it would feel,” she said.

The Pratt family volunteers at the annual Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services Thanksgiving dinner for 700 guests who are generally seniors or adults with disabilities and might otherwise be alone. This year the dinner, a celebration served up on china and cutlery, is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 28 at the Adolph & Rose Levis Jewish Community Center.

The two families who underwrite it — Edith Stein, and Etta and Raymond Zimmerman — join the celebration and visit with the guests.

Volunteers at a previous Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services Thanksgiving dinner included (clockwise from front) Naomi Steinberg, JFS President Danielle Hartman, David Pratt, Matt Levin and Richard Steinberg. Photo provided

“We started doing it because it sounded like a wonderful thing — feeding so many people in the community who weren’t going to have that kind of Thanksgiving Day,” Dale Pratt said.

Dale, 52, and her husband, David, 55, have prepped, plated and served food, among other assignments. Their children, Andrew, 22, and Julia, 20, have pushed wheelchairs, brought pies and engaged guests.

“Sometimes you’ll find we’ll be dancing with people if they want to get up and dance — or chatting with them,” Dale Pratt said. “They look forward to talking with you, engaging with you. You want them to feel like you’re there for them. It’s beautiful.”
JFS President Danielle Hartman said that “for many people like the Pratts, it is a highlight of their year.” For the guests, it’s more than just a meal: “We send them home with a full belly and a full heart.” Whether for guests or volunteers, the event “makes a lasting impact on everybody.” That makes a lot of people want to give back. “Sometimes, so many people come to volunteer, we have to turn them away,” Hartman said.

Go to to check on Thanksgiving volunteering. For year-round info, call 852-3333.
If the JFS is already full for Thanksgiving, it can suggest other opportunities throughout the year — whether for a few hours one day a year or for a few hours every week.

Shelley Franco, a volunteer at Tri-County, walks Princess Tuka, a Labrador mix. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

Thanksgiving volunteering isn’t always centered on a meal.

Tri-County Animal Rescue, for instance, welcomes volunteers to give a happier day for pets that are between homes. The Boca Raton center rescues, rehabilitates and cares for pets as it seeks permanent homes for them.

Tri-County counts on volunteers all year for such duties as dog-walking and socializing cats in the cat room. Volunteers working with the dogs must first take a three-hour class and with cats a half-hour class.

Shelley Franco of Deerfield Beach, a regular volunteer and volunteer coordinator at Tri-County, comes to the shelter on Thanksgiving.

“You don’t know if families will come, and I want to make sure the dogs will have a walk,” said Franco. She said it’s important to be there for the animals, knowing that they’d love to be in homes of their own.

It also helps to walk off some calories. That’s important because both pets and Tri-County helpers enjoy a roast turkey feast on Thanksgiving.

To volunteer at Tri-County, call 482-8110.

Missy Agnello hands out T-shirts at last year’s Town of Palm Beach United Way Turkey Trot. Proceeds go toward feeding people in need in the county. Photo by Capehart

A fast-paced volunteer activity presents itself at turkey day races.

Missy Agnello of Palm Beach has volunteered at the Town of Palm Beach United Way Turkey Trot since it was still a neighborhood run — before it became official. “It’s a great event,” she said.

Agnello finds it satisfying that her effort helps serve thousands of holiday meals in the county.

Volunteering, participating in and sponsoring the 5K race — which starts at 7:30 a.m. in Bradley Park — helps provide Thanksgiving Day meals through about two dozen partner agencies that serve Palm Beach County, including Alzheimer’s Community Care, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County and Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County.

United Way estimates its proceeds ahead of the Thanksgiving Day run and writes checks that help the agencies provide holiday dinners to people in need.

This year, about $50,000 is expected to feed more than 6,000 people throughout the county, according to Aleese Kopf, director of marketing and communications.

The Turkey Trot has about 50 volunteers on Thanksgiving and could always use more. “It can be a challenge to get people to wake up at 4 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning to help us set up a race,” Kopf said.

Agnello, 58, is typically onsite at 6 a.m., helping participants pick up their packets at the registration desk. She and other volunteers also work at water stations and direct the runners as well as hand out medals and clean up after. The early start lets Agnello volunteer and still get home in time to do what she needs to for her family’s dinner. Her husband, Michael, 60, and daughters — Allison, 28; Emily, 26; and Mickie, 21 — have been regular participants in the race.

It became part of the family tradition: Her children would go to the race, stop for a Starbucks coffee on the way home and then settle in to scope out the Black Friday sales — or now, the online sales.

People interested in volunteering for the race can call 655-1919 or email
Delray Beach will have its 33rd annual Turkey Trot 5K at Anchor Park, 340 S. Atlantic Blvd., on Nov. 23 and also needs volunteers.
For details, contact Danielle Beardlsey at 243-7277 or; or visit

Some organizations don’t need help on Thanksgiving Day, but they need food donations and may need help in the days leading up to it.

The Soup Kitchen in Boynton Beach may still need volunteer help 7 a.m. to noon the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when it expects to distribute 1,000 frozen turkeys, roasting pans and fixings for the holiday meal to registered families. And it’s still welcoming donations of frozen turkeys.

Executive Director Enrique Zuanetto said the kitchen serves its regular meal on Thanksgiving, but it has more than enough volunteers. Far fewer guests come that day — maybe 60 compared to the usual 400 in a day — because most have received the frozen turkey meal to make at home.

Zuanetto points out, though, that the Soup Kitchen needs volunteers every other day and welcomes those interested to sit down with him and talk about what opportunities would work for them.
To inquire about volunteer opportunities, call 239-3173.

Volunteers pack meals for Boca Helping Hands during last year’s pre-Thanksgiving event. Photo provided

Boca Helping Hands has a Box Brigade that will distribute frozen turkeys and dinner fixings on Nov. 18 in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach to people who have registered. It will partner with Boca Raton Resort & Club and the Addison on two Thanksgiving Day meals for those in need who have registered. Boca Helping Hands has enough volunteers for those events, but is looking for people to host fall food drives.

To donate, or for year-round volunteer opportunities, call 417-0913 or visit

Thanksgiving may be a more popular time for volunteerism because people have a little more time then, said Karen Swedenborg, development manager at Boca Helping Hands. “A lot of people just want to give back.”

These are just a few of the organizations that welcome volunteers throughout the year. Contact organizations that interest you to determine what opportunities they offer.

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