- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2003

The East Capitol Center for Change spread some Christmas cheer a little early Friday, serving about 20 poor children a warm holiday dinner that may be the only one they will eat this yuletide.

Holiday songs filled the modest basement of the Evans Recreation Center on East Capitol Street NE as the children enjoyed a hot meal of ham and turkey provided by Kids Cafe, a program run by the Capital Area Food Bank.

“I’d like to thank everybody for their help. The food is good, and I had fun,” said Ranique, 7, after taking a gulp of juice and smiling at her pals Rarxaiver and Rarheem.

Ten-year-old Rarnell said his favorite Christmas song is “Feliz Navidad,” and Rarzeke, 8, said he likes cranberries because they look like Jell-O.

These children, who live near Davis Elementary in Southeast, are from low-income families in Ward 7.

“This meal means a lot to them. Without what they get at school and here, they may not have a meal,” said Harry Cole, program director for the East Capitol Center for Change. “To feel part of a family and to have a meal, that’s something we take for granted.”

Mr. Cole asked that the children not be identified by their last names. His faith-based organization, located at 5901 Dix Street NE, provides healthy meals for the children and helps them with their homework as part of its community-improvement work.

The children, ages 6 to 13, beamed as they feasted on the ham and turkey dinner, complete with baked beans, string beans and cheesecake for dessert.

But their grins widened from ear to ear as Mr. Cole brought out gift bags stuffed with goodies — toy cars, coloring books and mini basketball hoops — all donated.

Ranique was excited to get her gifts, which included glittery pencils, a small camera and bubbles.

“Look at these pretty bubbles,” she said.

The children shared their toys, displayed them on the dinner table for all to see and took turns shooting hoops.

Many of the youngsters carefully wrapped their presents like treasure to take home. Mr. Cole said the leftovers would be sent home to the families.

The Capital Area Food Bank, which provides the food for the free center’s after-school snacks and meals, estimates that nearly 100,000 children in its service area are at risk of hunger, with one in three District children at risk.

The Kids Cafe program provides bulk food to programs for poor children, feeding 1,400 children daily at 38 after-school sites in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

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