Thanksgiving, and all its last minute hosting logistics, is nearly upon us. The preparation can be so big that it is easy to forget that it ends in the uncommon blessing of an extended family dinner.

My fondest Thanksgiving memory is all about touching a turkey heart. Yes, touching a turkey heart.

I was four years old, and my Grandad asked me to help him with the bag of “parts” he pulled from somewhere up inside our Thanksgiving turkey. He carefully laid all the organs out on a dinner plate, explaining what each of them was and how it worked. When he got to the heart, he put it in my chubby little fingers and made it pump. “It goes ba-dump, ba-dump, just like your little heart,” he said. It squirted a little blood, and my heart beat faster with the thrill of discovery.

My Grandad’s heart gave out that same year, while hauling donated food to families in need at his church. He is with me every time I pull that bag of parts out of a Thanksgiving turkey, along with the memory of my little heart beating fast as biology came alive at our kitchen counter. With my own young family, I honor him by finding ways to put the “giving” back in our Thanksgiving.

Spending the morning with Operation Turkey is how we do that in Austin.

Operation Turkey began over a decade ago with one man handing out his holiday leftovers to a homeless man on 6th street. Last year, this high energy group of givers served over 5000 hot meals to people living on the streets of Austin. It’s a safe and kid-friendly morning of giving that reminds us to be more thankful for the feast and warm beds that await us at home.

Last year we spent the morning in the Operation Turkey family volunteering room. Our kids were tasked with coloring tall stacks of take out boxes with uplifting pictures and notes. When the food is ready to serve, the kids take their decorated boxes and hand them out to (and cheer on) a long line of fun-loving volunteers waiting to go through the food line to fill them to the brim with donated turkey and fixings.

Older kids can also go through the food line to fill boxes, with a parent. My daughter’s heart grew as she walked that food line last year. She was eyeing the pumpkin pie station, and asking for the tenth time when we could leave to get lunch. She loaded a slice of pie, closed her box and we walked outside to hand the completed meal to the volunteers loading up cars for delivery.

Then she noticed two homeless men slumped up against the wall. The younger man was feeding the elderly one out of one of the boxes we had decorated. Her eyes filled with tears. Her heart grew to understand that the hunger she felt waiting on lunch was nothing compared to the hunger that many people feel every day. Suddenly, we couldn’t make that girl leave. She went back through that line about a dozen more times before we finally headed home for our own meal.

Consider joining us at Operation Turkey this Thanksgiving morning. Bring your children, your in-laws, your cousins, and your neighbors. Start your holiday with a 5000-meal “extended family dinner” that is sure to leave your heart more full than any of the many treats that will come later in the day.

I’ll be there: thinking back on turkey hearts, hoping to expand my little people’s hearts, and honoring my Grandad and the heart he put into everything right up until it stopped.

If you need some help pulling off a holiday meal and a morning of volunteering, book a Dinner Elf. I’m hosting twelve at our table this year, and couldn’t do both sanely without some help. Elf Taryn will come the day before to cook up turkey and all the fixings from our new Seasonal dishes. For me it’s the best of both worlds: a morning of filling our hearts and an afternoon of filling our bellies.

Join us if you can: http://www.operationturkey.com/get-involved/

Nicole Vickey is co-founder of Dinner Elf, a company that helps busy families sit down to home-cooked dinners.