We are the ones we have been waiting for.” The saying has been attributed to many, including Alice Walker, Sweet Honey in the Rock and an unnamed Hopi elder. But no matter the author, these days—with increased budget cuts and reduced government funding—the sentiment is more appropriate than ever. You don’t have to be famous to shed light on charitable causes; everyday people can make the biggest difference in the lives of those in need. This Thanksgiving, enlist family and friends in a group volunteer effort, be it helping a beloved organization reach a financial giving goal, contributing to a letter-writing campaign or building a house.

The Feeding America network helps more than 37 million people each year through its food banks and advocacy work on behalf of hungry children, the elderly and those experiencing poverty. Volunteer by repackaging and transporting food or helping out disaster-affected communities.Visit  feedingamerica.org.
Foodpantries.org lists pantries and soup kitchens by state, so finding one close to you is a click away. Drop off canned goods or volunteer as a food server. Visit foodpantries.org.

Did you know that having a tree planted within 50 feet of a residence can increase the home’s value by 9 percent, and that public housing areas with trees and vegetation are shown to have up to a 50-percent decrease in both violent and property crimes? Enter Keep America Beautiful (KAB), which combines education and volunteer action to make communities cleaner, greener and safer. Through November 30, KAB is hosting a National Planting campaign for native species in cities and towns all over the country. Sign up to plant trees and flowers, or organize a Great American Cleanup to tidy your community or a community in need. Visit kab.org.

Earlier this year, Jada Pinkett Smith testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against human trafficking, including forced labor and sexual slavery. The Polaris Project is one of the leading U.S. organizations in the fight to end this evil, reporting that an estimated 100,000 American children are at risk every year of being targeted. Participate in this “New Underground Railroad” by raising public awareness, advocating for stronger anti-trafficking legislation and/or donating funds to help assist victims. Visit polarisproject.org/take-action.

The Sunshine Foundation has made more than 36,000 dreams come true for abused, sick and physically challenged children. Help ease the financial strain on participating families by donating in-kind gifts including air miles, computers, advertising and printing. Or fulfill one child’s dream via the foundation’s Adopt A Dream program.Visit sunshinefoundation.org.

Last June, the American Red Cross reported that blood donations hit an emergency-level 15-year low. This can result in the cancellation of elective surgeries and procedures such as transplants and transfusions that require a lot of blood. Take a moment to contribute to this critical supply by visiting a donation center near you, or host a mobile drive in your own home. Visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.

The Homeless Shelter Directory’s interactive map finds local shelters where you can donate clothing, supplies and toys or volunteer skilled services such as tutoring or by teaching life-skill workshops. Visit homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Homes for Our Troops builds specially adapted homes for our veterans who were severely injured in the line of duty post-9/11. Get involved by donating cash and building materials or create your own street team to spread the word about how to help our military heroes. Visit homesforourtroops.org.

PetSmart Charities is the largest funder of companion-animal welfare efforts in our country. This Thanksgiving, support their
work by visiting one of their pet adoption events, shopping for products whose proceeds go toward helping homeless pets or donating supplies to help animals affected by disaster. Visit their Web site to learn more and to send a free informational e-card about PetSmart Charities to a friend. Visit petsmartcharities.org.