11/19/2013 04:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Thanksgiving Legacy (It Only Takes One)

The season of giving is fast approaching. We're inundated by Black Friday ads asking us to buy. Often we can forget that Thanksgiving is not the signal to start buying, but it's about giving thanks. To some, giving thanks is a way of life. We in San Diego were fortunate to know such a person in an unassuming lady by the name of Maxine Brown. Mrs. Brown, as everyone respectfully called her, didn't live in a home looking out onto the blue Pacific. There were neither swimming pools nor manicured lawns in her neighborhood. Affluence was not a part of her life. She lived in one of the poorest parts of the city, in a tiny, wood-framed house, but a happy, contented home because it was always filled with love.

For years, Maxine and her husband organized a community Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless or any neighbor that simply wanted to join others in a great meal. The local school allowed her to use their kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and the tables were set out in the school yard. During the early years, she cooked each turkey, one by one, in her own small oven. In addition, Maxine also asked volunteers to bring used clothing to be distributed to anyone in need of a warm jacket or pair of pants. The radio and TV stations would give out her address and people brought by their donations. The clothes were neatly stacked in piles right next to the couch in her living room. When the piles grew too tall, her sons boxed up the clothes and took them to the school for storage until Thanksgiving Day.

After a few years, the dinner reached so many people, the community became more involved. The Navy base, which was close to the school, took on the task of cooking the turkeys and delivering them to the school grounds on Thanksgiving Day. Local merchants donated plates, dinnerware, napkins and takeout boxes because after they had their fill, anyone could take food home for another meal.

The interesting thing about Maxine's Thanksgiving feasts is that she never had a sign-up sheet, never doled out tasks to volunteers, just asked them to show up early on Thanksgiving morning. Somehow the carrots got chopped, the potatoes mashed, the turkey carved, tables and chairs set out, and every tasty part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was neatly placed on the massive rows of tables, and on time. And afterwards, the kitchen and the schoolyard was left spotless, trash hauled away, counters cleaned and floors swept by the trusty volunteers.

Maxine and her two sons carried on the tradition of the community dinner for several years after their father passed away. She wouldn't quit until she was well into her 80s and unable to continue. During those 20s years of serving others, she touched thousands of lives, yet probably felt as if she was the one blessed by the people she touched.

To quote Mother Teresa, "At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in..."

Make this holiday season special for you and for others. A smile, a compliment, a favor, a phone call, all are ways to say and to give thanks. If you are wondering how to feel happier this holiday season, the magic key is to make someone else happy. Find ways to show your gratitude for the blessings you are given every day. Experience your own gratitude through programs like 21 Days of Gratitude by Mentors Channel. Incorporate gratitude as an integral part of your everyday life. You may not be able to feed hundreds, but you can nourish at least one other person with the gift of gratitude.