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Thanksgiving Ideas for PTOs and PTAs

Ideas, helpful tips, and downloadables to organize a fitting Thanksgiving celebration.

by Elizabeth S. Leaver


Food Drive

Thanksgiving is a prime time for charity and giving, and many families welcome the opportunity to contribute. Canned food, clothing, and even coins are fairly easy to collect from students and families.

Helpful tip: You can up the ante (and tap into kids’ natural competitiveness) by setting up teams of students. At the end of the “competition,” the team that has collected the most donations gets bragging rights.

Canned food drive flyer

Turkey Bingo

Turkey bingo is a fun variation on typical bingo events that can get families excited at the prospect of winning a holiday meal. The PTAs at Forest Lake and Forest View elementaries in Forest Lake, Minn., jointly pulled together their first turkey bingo night last year in only three weeks. In that time, organizers got permits to hold the event and researched bingo cards, daubers, and concessions before asking businesses to donate turkeys (each turkey was labeled with the donor’s name). They also asked parents and businesses to donate pies for a live pie auction. In all, they were able to get more than 20 pies, a grocery store gift card, and enough donations and sponsors for 18 frozen turkeys. In addition to the bags of food the PTA assembled to give away at the event, enough was left over to donate to a school family in need.

Helpful tip: The Forest Lake PTA maximized participation by advertising the event with flyers, in an e-newsletter, and on Facebook.

Turkey bingo flyer
Turkey bingo cards

Get a free “elf bucks” template to make your holiday shop inclusive

Thanksgiving Potluck or Lunch

A potluck dinner at school is low-cost and easy to put together. A Thanksgiving potluck has a special bonus of giving families a chance to unwind and be social during the hectic weeks of the holiday season. If done at school during the lunch period, it ups the holiday excitement for students while giving them the opportunity to try new foods.

Helpful tips: If you have an evening potluck for families, consider asking families to contribute a dish that represents their own holiday customs. If you opt for a school-day lunch for the kids, you can ask for contributions (side dish, main course, dessert) based on classrooms or grades. (As with any food-related event, be sure to check with your school about restrictions and allergy issues.)

Thanksgiving potluck flyer

Thanksgiving in Other Countries

Thanksgiving seems as American as apple pie, but variations of it are celebrated around the world. Talk to teachers about organizing a lesson or presentation on some worldwide Thanksgiving customs and how they might relate to those observed in the United States.

Helpful tip: Check with school families about whether they observe other Thanksgiving traditions.

Create Thankful Trees

A “thankful tree” is an easy activity that helps remind kids of all they have to be thankful for. Simply give each student a leaf and then ask the students to write down the things they’re most thankful for. A parent group can provide classrooms with the thankful tree template, then assemble and mount the trees in a hallway or on a bulletin board at the school.

Helpful tip: Some children might be hesitant about sharing. You can help by providing them with a simple list of prompts, such as “family members,” “pets,” “home,” etc.

Thankful tree template

Turkey Trot/Jogathon

Thanksgiving-theme 5K races are November mainstays, and they’re often organized by parent groups. In general, a road race takes at least several months to organize, so if you’ve never done one, you’ll want to plan accordingly. Start by talking to city or town officials about permits needed and potential routes. Depending on the scope of the event, you’ll most likely want to look for sponsors for expenses like race T-shirts and post-event food and drinks. A holiday jogathon can serve a similar purpose—students ask friends and family to sponsor them per lap or as a flat donation.

Helpful tip: A road race is an event that requires a lot of volunteers—so make sure well ahead of time that you’ll have enough help.

Turkey trot flyer
Thanksgiving jogathon flyer
Thanksgiving jogathon collection sheet
School Fun Run Fundraiser Guide

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