Thanksgiving, Leftovers, and Competence


By: Ama Larsen, Faculty Member, Online Bachelor of Social Work Program, Spring Arbor University

Colossians 4:2: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."

Thanksgiving is a time when our great nation honors the 1621 fall feast between colonists and Wampanoag Indians in Plymouth Massachusetts. Centuries later, Thanksgiving has become one of America’s most popular holidays. It’s a special time that brings memories and an abundance of leftovers. In today’s article, we’ll reflect on the history of Thanksgiving and explore a few ways it relates to the field of social work.


Did you know, the phenomenon of too much food actually started when the first T.V. dinner was a result of too much leftover turkey? In 1953, the Swanson company miscalculated the number of turkeys Americans would buy for Thanksgiving. Inspired by cleverly packaged airline meals, the company’s salesman-Gerry Thomas, had 5,000 aluminum trays filled with cooked turkey, cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes to create the first-ever commercial T.V. dinner.


Being innovative is important in all professions, and in the field of social work, we are tasked with building competence. This allows social workers to effectively partner with clients to help them achieve goals through the provision of resources.

There are times when social workers must be creative in figuring out how best to help a client recognize and make use of leftovers, as the answer isn’t always obvious. 

Have you celebrated the leftovers of what could have been devastating situations and turned them into life lessons, perspective shifts, and positive outcomes? 


Social work is a strength-based profession empowering clients to acknowledge the situations they are in, find the cords of hope so they can pull themselves out of despair, and take advantage of resources available to achieve their goals.

Leftovers are not detrimental, as long as we value their worth and ability to nourish ourselves. 

Romans 5:3-4 says the leftovers of suffering are perseverance, character, and hope. A person’s life may have been shattered by trauma, loneliness, anger, or despair, but God has given us all innate competencies through our talents to overcome setbacks like these.


My favorite preacher, T.D. Jakes, refreshingly reminds us that a setback is set up for God to make a comeback in our lives.

Believe that God and this life have a purpose for you.

In giving thanks for the totality of our lives, including the good and the bad, we can aim to become thought-leaders like Gerry Thomas, who creatively led the Swanson company to sell over 10 million T.V. dinners in their first year from leftover turkey.



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History. (2018, November 15). Thanksgiving history, trivia, and facts. Retrieved from

Stephey, M.J. (2011, November 24). The first T.V. dinner was Thanksgiving leftovers. Retrieved from,28804,1862503_1862505_1862520,00.html