When Jill Smokler founded Scary Mommy – a blog that chronicled her experiences as a stay-at-home mom in Baltimore, she had no idea that it would grow into a massive online community of parents. She also didn’t realize what a huge impact the site could have. But in 2011, a brave comment from a parent about her struggles to afford Thanksgiving dinner morphed into something big: The Scary Mommy Thanksgiving Project.

Today, the site enables thousands of people to donate money to provide a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need, and build community along the way. Recently, Julie Bender, Executive Director of the related non-profit, Scary Mommy Nation, took some time to tell Repair the World more about The Thanksgiving Project, its impact, and how you can get involved.

1. What was the inspiration behind The Thanksgiving Project?
The Thanksgiving Project came about in 2011. One of the unique things about Scary Mommy is that we encourage moms to share both the up sides and down sides of parenting. This makes for funny, honest, and inclusive dialogue among moms, regardless of their differences. One part of the Scary Mommy community is a Confessional, where moms can share comments anonymously without worrying about being personally judged by other members.

Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, recognized a trend on the Confessional of moms who were having trouble putting food on the table, let alone a holiday dinner. She did some research and discovered that the average Thanksgiving meal cost approximately $50 for a family of 10. Jill decided to provide $50 grocery gift cards for 2 families and asked any community members who were able to give just $25 and she would match them up and give the gift card to a family in need. The response was overwhelming. In 2011, Scary Mommy community members provided 400 families with a Thanksgiving meal they would have otherwise gone without. And Scary Mommy Nation, a 501c3 non profit, was born. Last year, The Thanksgiving Project helped close to 3,000 families and this year we have helped over 1,100 families and have over 1,000 families on the waiting list currently.

2. Can you share a story that demonstrates the project’s impact?
The stories Scary Mommy gets from the applicants are often heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time. These are families who have experienced so many challenges but still appreciate the generosity of strangers providing them with a Thanksgiving meal. Here is one example:

“I am a single mother to three amazing children, ages 8, 10 and 12. I have asked my oldest not to mention Thanksgiving multiple times in the past few weeks because its another day I know food will be a stretch to provide or promise. She loves to help cook and it pains me to face another unknown. I have been struggling with health issues for several years, and I have gone without food more often than not so my children eat. I was losing hope and literally prayed through tears last night, ” God, could you please give us a Happy Thanksgiving” I can promise you we will deeply appreciate this gift card and be grateful for every bite. I truly believe you and your donors are gently unveiling the shame and tragedy of hunger in our nation. I have felt hopeless and alone as others undoubtedly do, but am lifted up by the kindness of this precious gift.

I just read your email informing me of being chosen to receive a Thanksgiving gift card. I am totally in tears writing to thank you from the deepest part of my heart. Today was an especially hard day, and this good news has truly touched and overtaken me. I am so very thankful to be chosen and receive this help. I can now know in advance we will have food and a Thanksgiving meal. I know you are helping myself and the other recipients beyond just the food. You are helping us all have some hope, some strength, relieve a little of the stress, to feel some peace and for that we are all so deeply grateful.”

3. How has it helped to build community – within the Scary Mommy network and beyond?
One of the things that is so great about The Thanksgiving Project is that it helps families that are part of the Scary Mommy community. These are moms who may be on Facebook or the blog and no one has any idea how much they are struggling to feed their families. The project isn’t necessarily helping people who are homeless or receiving food stamps (although some certainly are) but rather people who could be in your circle of friends and for whatever reason (illness, divorce, recently laid off or spouse serving overseas) have fallen on hard times. This gift enables them to celebrate a holiday that would most likely have been another night of eating cereal or noodles. The luxury of a special meal isn’t easy to come by when bills aren’t being paid.

Another unique aspect of The Thanksgiving Project is that each donor, whether they give $10 or $1000, receives personal information on the family or families whose Thanksgiving meal they have provided. This personal connection between donor and recipient has led to relationships being formed between the families and holiday and birthday gifts being donated as well. Members of the Scary Mommy community live all over the country and come from every religious, racial and socio-economic background. Scary Mommy and The Thanksgiving Project connects every member in such a deep and meaningful way, because at the end of the day, we all want our children to be cared for and safe. And what better way to ensure that happens than by lifting each other up in times of need?

4. What is the best way for people to get involved?
The best way to become involved with The Scary Mommy Thanksgiving Project is to go to www.scarymommy.com and donate whatever you are able to a family in need. Checks can also be sent to Scary Mommy Nation P.O. Box 20866 Baltimore, MD 21209. You will receive personal information on the family whose Thanksgiving dream you’ve made a reality. As Mother Teresa so eloquently said “If you can’t feed a hundred, then feed just one.”

In addition, you can also spread the word about The Thanksgiving Project in your community and on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. If you own a business and make a tax-deductible contribution, we have opportunities to showcase your company on Scary Mommy to our over 1 million followers.