- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

Not too much distinguishes the House of Imagene's Thanksgiving celebration from a typical family holiday dinner.

The handful of volunteers distributing the turkey, gravy and green beans necessary for a Thanksgiving feast could be mistaken for a host family serving loved ones. They make small talk and joke with the beneficiaries of the service, and along with the impoverished, they dance a few steps if a song sparks the feeling.

Bishop Imagene Stewart, the animated director of the home, for 30 years has served Thanksgiving dinner to hungry area residents, this year giving out 140 turkeys. Some were for the sit-down dinner and the others went directly to families.

"They say 'thank you,' and that's all I need to hear," she said, taking a few minutes from serving and entertaining to eat some of the food. "Just those two words."

Bishop Stewart said she started the charity, whose day-to-day purpose is to shelter homeless military veterans, after her own period of misfortune during which she relied on charities, making her want to give back.

She said about 120 volunteers helped her this Thanksgiving and that the meals were made possible through donations of food and money.

Her hope is to get people back on their feet by providing them either shelter or a hot meal.

"It's people who want to help themselves," she said. "They don't want a handout."

The personalized nature of Bishop Stewart's charity attracted at least one server yesterday.

Vanessa Warrick, 30, who recently moved to the District from New York, had several invitations to share in Thanksgiving dinners, but she opted to slice and serve stacks of pies to people lining up at the P Street NW residence.

"It feels like home," she said. "I assumed it would be this big soup kitchen. You come here and you're not just slapping [food] on the plate."

Like Miss Warrick, Ngina McLean, a 28-year-old volunteer, said she will definitely be back to help next year. The generosity of the people involved inspired her and made her feel like they were old friends, she said.

Fellow volunteers and some of those enjoying the free meal gave each other hugs as they left.

Miss McLean said she was impressed by Bishop Stewart's giving out whole turkeys and hams in addition to the hot dinners, which were served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and yesterday.

"Even if you feed people today, they still need to eat tomorrow and the next day," she said.

Though Dwight Drakeford, 53, plans on having his own turkey dinner next year, he is pleased to know he can find comfort in a place where the people are "just fantastic."

"This is what God really wants: a demonstration of love and undying kindness," said Mr. Drakeford, who lives in a transitional home.


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