Friday, November 23, 2001

Not everybody was or wanted to be home for the holiday yesterday.

Among those who served others, instead of gorging themselves, nearly everybody wanted to give thanks for something.

At Food & Friends in Southeast, which provides home-delivered meals year-round to those with advanced illnesses, 350 volunteers prepared, hand-packed and delivered 540 traditional turkey dinners for four yesterday morning.

Allison Bauer, 35, was one of the volunteers.

“I have a lot of really good things in my life,” she said. To her, packing containers of turkey stuffing into a gift bag her place on the assembly line was a way to give something back.

In the immaculate kitchen, apron-clad volunteers lined up along stainless-steel tables in two 40-foot rows, filling the paper bags with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, dinner rolls and pumpkin or apple pie, all the while clapping to dance music that thundered over a boom box.

More volunteers bustled in and bustled out, carrying the packages to cars to be shipped as far away as Fredericksburg, Va., some 65 miles to the south. The day started before 5 a.m., and organizers expected every meal to be delivered by 1 p.m.

“I’ll tell you why it works so well,” executive director Craig Shniderman said. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors. It’s an old-fashioned concept.”

Across town, at the House of Imagene, about a dozen volunteers served a steady stream of the hungry starting at 11 a.m., after prayers and a rendition of “God Bless America.”

They shuffled tin plates of turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and green beans in and out of the sweltering kitchen with its three electric ranges and two refrigerators.

A folding table dominated what space there was in the tiny room, while a color TV showing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade went all but unnoticed in one corner.

“Some folks here haven’t had a reason to smile in a long time,” said Imogene Stewart, who runs the shelter. “At least one time a year, we can have a good time and be thankful for it.”

Mrs. Stewart has been serving Thanksgiving meals on the sidewalk outside the shelter on P Street Northwest for 30 years. She estimated they will have fed about 1,500 people yesterday.

“It’s a great place to go,” said Kevin Brooks, as he carried off a plate piled high after a 10-minute wait. “I was smiling all day today.”

Thomas Hill, 51, a lab technician in Silver Spring, volunteered and brought his 17-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and his wife, Sondra.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” he said. “This is my first time, but it won’t be my last.”

The day wasn’t about food, no matter who was asked.

Ryan Runge, 30, got off a plane from Charlotte, N.C., yesterday afternoon at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

He’s taking advantage of the long weekend to visit the city for the first time since he was a boy. He didn’t yet have a place to stay and hadn’t even considered arranging a Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s not my biggest concern,” he said. What was he thankful for?

“Safety and life, I guess.”

At Arlington National Cemetery, Joe Stewart, 63, spent Thanksgiving Day sightseeing with the youngest of his three daughters. His wife lives in San Francisco, where she works for the U.S. Customs Service.

While Mr. Stewart would prefer to spend the holidays with his family, he’s used to being apart.

“You don’t spend 20 years in the Marine Corps and 21 years as a federal civil servant and become attached to the holidays,” he said.

Maureen Hecht, 43, bought a ticket to the 3:15 showing of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at the Cineplex Odion Uptown cinema.

She said going to the movies on Thanksgiving Day was a tradition for her, but couldn’t remember what she had seen last year. She said it didn’t matter what she ate for dinner.

“I’d like to think it’s less about the turkey and more about the thanks,” she joked. She was thankful for the pleasant weather.

“I think more people should be thankful for what they have,” said Steve Taylor, 49, as he waited for a train yesterday afternoon at Union Station.

Mr. Taylor came to the District earlier this week to visit his parents. They had a Thanksgiving meal early yesterday afternoon so he could catch his train home to Denver, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

What was he thankful for?


Downstairs at the station’s food court, the Ellis family shared a Thanksgiving dinner of Mamma Ilardo’s thick-crust cheese pizza. Originally from England, the family of four settled in Three Bridges, N.J., two years ago. They are in town for the weekend and visited museums yesterday.

“We recognize what it’s all about, but it’s more of an opportunity for us to do what we want as a family,” Mr. Ellis said.

Last year, they went skiing, he said. And they ate turkey.

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