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Food For Thought

How To Put Real Giving Into The Friendsgiving Feast

Whole Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey with All the Sides
iStockphoto
Whole Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey with All the Sides
iStockphoto

Like Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving is a time for coming together with loved ones – only the focus is on friends.

The Friendsgiving dinner – usually a potluck affair with plenty of booze — has taken off in recent years, especially among millennials. (Thank the gang from television's Friends for helping to popularize the concept.)

And while some Friendsgiving gatherings replace the traditional gathering with family on Thanksgiving Day, many take place in the lead up to the holiday – especially in the coming days. (As Instagram attests, some folks have already gotten their #Friendsgiving on.)

"Culturally, we've seen the rise of Friendsgiving, as young professionals take the opportunity to create the Thanksgiving they want with their friends," says Clay Dunn, chief communications officer for Share Our Strength, a hunger nonprofit. "You can avoid your Aunt Ina's terrible cranberry sauce. You can do what you want."

And as long as you're reinventing traditions, he says, why not put more emphasis on the "giving" in your feast? That's the idea that Share Our Strength is pushing this year. It's asking people to leverage their holiday goodwill by turning their friendly gatherings into fundraising opportunities to fight childhood hunger.

Share Our Strength has made it easy by creating online tools. Basically, you register to host an event, set a fundraising goal, create a donation page and share the link with friends.

Dunn recommends getting creative in how you hit up your friends. For instance, he suggests, you could ask people to pay to attend the dinner. Or you could come up with giveaways – like a signature cocktail for donors — or auctioning off your talents — like baking or present-wrapping — in exchange for donations.

The nonprofit's goals are modest right now: It's hoping to get 100 people to agree to host Friendsgiving fundraisers. Since this is a pilot year for the program, Dunn says his group doesn't have a specific monetary goal.

Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says the program is part of a growing trend among charitable groups to encourage friends to raise donations from each other. The general idea, she says, "really works. Some behavioral economists have looked at it. That's why the Ice Bucket Challenge did so well."

And targeting millennials, she says, is also smart, because they're much more charity oriented than previous generations. "They're really interested in supporting good causes," Palmer says – although, she notes, the causes they support also appeal to many others.

So if the Friendsgiving fundraiser piques your interest, there are plenty of places to look for tips on planning the feast, like here and here. Share Our Strength has resources, including templates for table name cards and a Pinterest board for cooking and decorating inspiration, too.

As for the money raised, Dunn says it will go toward his group's No Kid Hungry campaign, which supports various initiatives to address food insecurity among America's children, as well as to programs run by its partners.

An estimated 7.9 million children don't always get enough food to eat at home, and nearly 16 million kids live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – defined as $24,230 for a family of four. According to a new book by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Michigan, about 1.5 million American families live on just $2 a day.

"We passed a terrible milestone" recently, Dunn says. "For the first time, more than half of the children attending public school in the nation are living below the poverty line."

Share Our Strength helps fund logistical support for programs that provide free breakfasts and after-school meals to students in low-income areas. (More than 21 million children rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year.) Dunn says the money will also go to programs that help keep these kids fed during the summertime, too, and that teach families how to shop and cook healthy on a budget.

And if the do-good feeling isn't enough to motivate you, Dunn says there are prizes. The top fundraiser will get to tour the official Food Network kitchens in New York.

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