Thanksgiving is a day to remember everything we are grateful for, but sometimes just saying what we're thankful for doesn't feel like enough. Fulfillment can often be found in putting our thanksgiving into action by serving those less fortunate.

For many teenagers, volunteer hours are a requirement for school and a good thing to put on college applications. However, it's important to remember that in the end service isn't about you. It isn't a competition to see who has done more hours, a race to get it done, or an inconvenience on a Saturday morning that could have been spent sleeping in. It's about the people who may be competing to get a job, in a race to stay alive or wish they had a bed to sleep in. Choosing where to volunteer can be daunting -- there are hundreds of different charities and opportunities. No matter what, you'll be helping people.

I've volunteered at a wide range of places to find what is the best fit for me. This year I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and St. Luke's Mission of Mercy. These organizations provide great opportunities to help those less fortunate right here in Buffalo. Going to my first Habitat for Humanity site with a school club, I didn't know what to expect. As we got closer, I noticed the amount of vacant lots in the neighborhood we would be working in. When we arrived at the site, the street had multiple Habitat homes on it, but we were told that another two abandoned homes had been demolished on that street just in the past week. Each of those vacant lots represents someone who had to give up on their dream, but Habitat tries to give those people a second chance.

The stories of the recipients of Habitat for Humanity homes are all different, but none of them just get handed the keys to a brand new house. All of them are required to volunteer for Habitat and work on their own house, which gives them a sense of pride and purpose. So, when you volunteer at a house, you could be working alongside the person who will be living there. It's nice for the homeowners to see so many people who care about them, and it also motivates the volunteers to do a good job.

Habitat homes either start from scratch or improve upon an existing building, so there are a variety of jobs for volunteers. Not a contractor? Don't worry, neither am I -- the only requirement is that volunteers have to be 16 or older and willing to learn. The people in charge of each site don't expect you to know how to do everything and will walk you through it. For example, none of us in our club had ever installed insulation, but by the end of the day we were pros. It's always great to learn something new, but it's even better to make someone's home warm and cozy with your new skill.

> Food for thought

For two years in a row, I've volunteered at St. Luke's Mission of Mercy on its food packing day before the big Thanksgiving giveaway. Once you see the amazing results of the day's work, you will want to come back. Entering the church where the food packing takes place, it is odd to see bins and cardboard boxes filled with food in the aisles of such a beautiful place. Instead of filling the pews with people, the goal of the day is to fill them with bags of food for the needy. It seems like an impossible task considering the size of the church and the amount of work needed to put together each bag, but when volunteers start piling in and the production line begins, the rate of progress is amazing.

It may sound monotonous to keep passing bags of food down the line of volunteers for hours, but you meet so many interesting new people that it's fun and it goes by quickly. The diverse group of volunteers includes families with little kids, high school groups, church groups, companies and many others. To be a part of such a large gathering of people willing to give up a Saturday so that thousands wouldn't have to go hungry on Thanksgiving is a great experience.

At the end of the day, everyone's hard work showed. More than 6,000 bags of food filled the church, ready to be distributed. It is one of the most powerful sights I've ever seen -- not just the fact that hunger affects so many in Buffalo, but that so many people are willing to help.

St. Luke's has many ministries that help the needy year-round, and there will be another food packing day on Dec. 10.

It may not seem like a few hours of service will have a huge impact on someone's life, but you are doing your part, no matter how small. Show that you are grateful for what you have by sharing it, and those you help will be grateful that you cared about them in their time of need.

Kristina Macro is a junior at Holy Angels Academy.