Build a Meal: An Outreach Activity for Thanksgiving

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This outreach activity invites young people to build holiday meals and memories for families that might not be able to afford a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Build a Meal: An Outreach Activity for Thanksgiving

This outreach activity invites the young people to build holiday meals and memories for families that might not be able to afford a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Suggested Time: 10 to 15 minutes for the planning meeting to discuss the project; 20 to 30 minutes to assemble the meal, decorate a tablecloth, and write or find prayers

Group Size: This strategy can be done with any size group. The more people you have, the more meals they can build.

Materials Needed:

  • newsprint and markers
  • boxes or baskets, one for each meal
  • plain white paper tablecloths, one for each family that will receive a meal
  • colored markers and other supplies for decorating the tablecloths
  • supplies for making prayer cards (optional)

Preparation. Before the event identify families that can use the meals and also determine how many meals your group can make. Check with the pastoral staff in your parish. You may also contact the agent for social-justice outreach at your parish or the local welfare office, Salvation Army office, soup kitchen, or Catholic Charities office. Establish a delivery location for each meal.

Place an ad in the parish bulletin, asking for monetary donations. Those donations can be used to purchase perishable items at the last minute, to buy expensive items like turkeys, and so on. Be sure that you have enough refrigerator or freezer room to store the perishable goods for as long as you need to.

Planning Meeting

1. Explain to the young people that they are going to build a Thanksgiving meal for a special family. Each of them will bring some food item to put in a box or basket, and together they will work on other elements to make the meal memorable.

2. With the help of the young people, list on newsprint the food items that are part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Be sure the following items are on the list: a roasting chicken or turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, a vegetable, bread or rolls, and a dessert.

3. Ask the young people to write their name beside the item they think they can bring to your next gathering. If you have more items than participants, some people may be able to bring two things. If you have more participants than items, you can build more than one meal.

Building the Meal

Preparation. You may want to call the young people or send them a reminder before this session, so that they do not forget to bring their item or items.

1. Set out a box or basket for each meal, and ask the young people to put their nonperishable food items in the container. Save room for the perishable foods, which will have to be refrigerated or frozen until the delivery date. If you are building more than one meal, be sure that the food items get into the correct box or basket.

2. Once the food items have been collected, ask the young teens to decorate a paper tablecloth for each family that will receive a meal. They might include good wishes for the family, a Thanksgiving greeting, verses from the Scriptures, and promises of prayer. They could write on the tablecloth a prayer to be read at the meal. They might also create for each family member a special prayer card with a blessing prayer. When they have finished the tablecloth and prayer cards, add them to the box or basket for that meal.

3. Gather the young people around the meal or meals, and tell them each to put a hand on a box or basket. Ask them to think about the people who will be eating the meal or meals they built and to imagine what those people might look like. Pause for a moment of silence, then say a short prayer for God's blessings on the builders of the meal or meals and on those who will receive the food.

4. Deliver each meal to its designated family or other location, or ask some of the participants' parents to take care of this task.


  • This strategy can become a parishwide project led by the young teens. Planning and publicity for the project will have to start early in the fall. Everyone in the parish can bring food items. The young teens can work with children in the parish to make tablecloths and prayer cards. When everything is collected, the young people can spend one weekend afternoon before the holiday building meals.
  • Instead of just bringing food items, the young people can do a fund-raiser in the fall to make some money, then go shopping together for the necessary items.
  • Though Thanksgiving is a logical time for this project, families find themselves in need at all times of the year. Consider doing a meal project at an unusual time, like the Fourth of July, Saint Patrick's Day, or just any month.
  • In the process of building a meal, discuss with the young people the various reasons why some families may not have adequate food. A lack of food might have to do with the number of people in the household, joblessness, low wages, or any number of other situations. This would be a good chance to talk with the young teens about Catholic social teaching.


  • Isa. 58:6-9 (Share your bread with the hungry.)
  • Ezek. 18:5-9 (A just person gives food to the hungry.)
  • Matt. 25:31-40 (Feed the hungry.)



(This activity is taken from HELP series: Holiday and Seasonal Ideas for Ministry with Young Teens, a manual in the HELP series, by Carole Goodwin and Marilyn Kielbasa [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 2000], pages 92-94. Copyright © 2000 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at

Published October 24, 2003.