The pictures of three young boys surround the bed in Joseph Kennedy’s small Northwest efficiency. Nearby hang colorful paintings of dolphins and men, handmade with love by the three nephews. A dreamcatcher’s web catches sunlight from the small window that pours in and illuminates the dozen medicine bottles that keep the AIDS patient alive.
Today, this small, quiet apartment will be full of fun when Mr. Kennedy hosts a Thanksgiving feast complete with turkey and trimmings for the three boys. He can do this, he says, because of Food & Friends, the charity that delivers his meals and keeps him alive.
“I can’t feed myself, much less others,” he said. “Because of the turkey dinners they are bringing, I can have [my nephews] over and play host.”
Every year for more than a decade, the Southeast-based charity expands its regular meal service by providing Thanksgiving dinner for four to its clients.
“It’s a terrible thing being so dependent on strangers,” said Craig Shniderman, executive director of Food & Friends, who caters to people coping with the advanced stages of life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS and cancer.
“We provide the turkeys so that our clients can have family and friends over on Thanksgiving, have a social experience and feel like they contribute something,” he said.
At headquarters yesterday, dozens of volunteers were working to make that happen. One man opened super-sized cans of sweet potatoes while another drained them so that still another could glaze them before they were packed into plastic containers.
Nearby, one volunteer ripped off huge sheets of foil while another held up a full turkey to be wrapped. The volunteers would repeat this routine with 6,500 pounds of turkey; 825 pounds of sweet potatoes and stuffing; and 650 pounds of corn, green beans, collard greens and cranberries.
And then there are the 1,200 pumpkin and apple pies. Each party gets one of each.
Mr. Shniderman said that since September 11, contributions to the charity have decreased but volunteerism has increased.
“People are trying to take hold of their lives and are stepping up to help others,” he said. “People are coming together and healing their world in a small way.”
Debby Greenstein of Southwest is a regular volunteer and said she loved being part of the effort.
“You know there is a direct impact of your work,” she said. “Someone is going to eat tomorrow.”
The faculty and staff of Flint School, a private school in Oakton, sent 40 volunteers in an annual Thanksgiving tradition.
“They need lots off help, and there are a lot of us to help,” said Susan Biggs, a teacher.
Every Wednesday, Polly Franchine of Northwest drives her route and delivers the large packages of food to clients. She initially began volunteering after inquiring about opportunities for her teen-age daughter looking to fulfill her high school community service requirements.
“I had no idea the extent or depth of the AIDS problem in D.C.,” she said. “I just assumed all these new drugs contained it. I was so upset when I found out.”
So she joined the hundreds who volunteer monthly by cooking, packing or driving. She says the work has been very meaningful for her.
“There was one woman I delivered to for sixth months,” she recalled. “This woman couldn’t work and needed help. This food was essential for her.
“I always dropped off her food last so I could sit and talk with her,” she said of the woman, who died recently of cancer. “We got to be more than delivery person and client.”
She said that September 11 showed her how important it is to resume one’s life.
“We can’t stop because these people need food,” she said. “We have to keep going. We are all dependent on each other.”
Her first stop yesterday was to Mr. Kennedy.
Mr. Kennedy said the service is the “most critical support system” he has.
“Beyond the medical needs, it keeps me alive,” he said. “It feeds me, but it also forces me to see someone every day. This is a very isolated life. They keep me from giving up.”
Just as they did when Mr. Kennedy’s best friend died in the attacks on the Pentagon September 11.
“I stopped eating,” he said. “Their service became even more critical. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”