Radio Address to the Nation on the Observance of Thanksgiving Day


November 22, 1986


My fellow Americans:


This coming Thursday we'll celebrate a holiday that belongs uniquely to our nation -- Thanksgiving Day. Millions of us will travel from all parts of the country to gather in family homes, observing the holiday according to longstanding tradition: turkey with all the fixings, pumpkin pie, laughter, the warmth of family, love, and, yes, a moment of prayer to give thanks. Yet, at the same time, many among us will be less fortunate. And just as Thanksgiving Day has always been an occasion for counting our blessings, so, too, it's always been a time for making life better among our fellow Americans. In churches and synagogues across the country, for example, food will be collected in the next few days for distribution to the needy, or on Thanksgiving Day itself. And with this spirit of Thanksgiving in mind, I thought I'd speak with you for a moment this afternoon about the goodness of the American people and our willingness to give each other a helping hand.


The spirit of voluntarism is deeply ingrained in us as a nation. Maybe it has something to do with our history as a frontier land. Those early Americans who gave us Thanksgiving Day itself had to help each other in order to survive -- joining together to plant crops, build houses, and raise barns. And perhaps they discovered that in helping others their own lives were enriched. In our own day, a poll showed most Americans believe that no matter how big government gets and no matter how many services it provides, it can never take the place of volunteers. In other words, we Americans understand that there are no substitutes for gifts of service given from the heart.


In our recent history, there was a time not long ago when this spirit seemed endangered, when philanthropy and personal involvement were giving way to bureaucratic plans and Federal programs. So, when our administration took office, we made it one of our main aims to encourage private sector initiatives, to reinvigorate the American tradition of voluntarism. And I have to admit, our success in this area is one of the accomplishments of which I'm most proud. For in the past few years, we've witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of the volunteer spirit, a tremendous reassertion of good will and neighborliness. Last year alone, individuals, corporations, bequests, and foundations gave nearly $80 billion to good causes -- a record high. You can see these volunteer efforts all around. Consider the United Way, founded a century ago next year. Today there are more than 2,200 local United Ways in communities throughout the country. Just last year the United Way raised more than $2.3 billion, supported more than 3,700 health and human care agencies and programs, and served millions of families.


In 1958, for example, Dr. William Walsh asked President Dwight Eisenhower for the use of an old hospital ship, mothballed after World War II. Ike provided that ship, charging rent of just $1 a year. And Dr. Walsh turned the old ship into Project HOPE, a seaborne hospital and medical school that traveled the world. Today Project HOPE has been modernized, and medical volunteers traveled by plane recently to El Salvador to help with the aftereffects of the devastating earthquake.


Then there's Just Say No, a largely volunteer organization that's teaching children around the world to say no to drugs. This organization got started when Nancy was visiting an elementary school in California. A little girl asked what to do if someone offered her drugs, and Nancy's answer was simple: ``Just say no.'' Well, not long ago, Nancy hosted a Just Say No rally here at the White House. More than 2,300 children attended. Although Just Say No requires school officials, teachers, and especially parents to devote to it a great deal of time, Nancy told me that everyone she spoke to at the rally was convinced that it's not only worth it but of vital importance for the future.


Local efforts may be less well known than major undertakings like Just Say No and Project HOPE, but to the very heart and soul of the American volunteer spirit, many of you'll be able to think of good works being performed in your own communities. I think of a house for the homeless here in Washington founded by a young priest, Father Jack Pfannenstiel, and sustained by his own hard work and that of volunteers. McKenna House offers shelter, food, and human concern for the homeless men right here in our Nation's Capital. Of course, we must do more, striving always to give of ourselves to those less fortunate. But it's good to reflect that here in America, perhaps more than in any other nation on Earth, we have a tradition of giving -- of neighbor helping neighbor -- that makes life better for tens of thousands every day. And for this, too, on Thanksgiving Day, let us give thanks.


Until next week, thanks for listening. God bless you.


Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.