- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

Volunteers in the Washington area yesterday served thousands of hot meals at soup kitchens, homeless shelters and the homes of the sick.

Bishop Imagene B. Stewart’s House of Imagene fed 3,000 of the city’s neediest residents in Northwest.

“It’s great for people [who are] hungry on Thanksgiving,” said Nathan Simms, 57, a homeless man holding a paper plate full of food at Bishop Stewart’s shelter.

Bishop Stewart, 61, said it was the last time her shelter would to serve the homeless on Thanksgiving Day. After more than 30 years, she said, she is too ill and too tired of fighting for support.

“I’ve gotten old, and my health is deteriorating,” said Bishop Stewart, who is fighting ovarian cancer. “I can’t do what I used to do. … I just feel I’ve shoestringed for all the years and got no support. I’m at the point now where I need help.”

In Southeast, Craig M. Shniderman, executive director of Food & Friends, was helping deliver turkey dinners to 3,000 people unable to leave their homes because of illness.

Mr. Shniderman said he rose at 2:30 a.m. to help deliver the dinners in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“Why wouldn’t you get up early to do this?” asked Mr. Shniderman, whose daughters, Katie, 10, and Emily, 14, were among the 300 volunteers at the kitchen and delivery center at 58 L St. SE.

Food & Friends was created in 1988 to prepare meals for people with AIDS, cancer and other disabling illnesses. Since then, volunteers that have included doctors, nurses, lawyers and day laborers have prepared and delivered about 6.5 million meals to more than 9,500 people.

Howard University President Patrick Swygert was helping pack the bags yesterday. “It’s my first time. It’s a wondrous occasion,” he said. “This helps define the community.”

It was the seventh Thanksgiving service for Suzanne Goldstein, 58, president of the Food & Friends board. “I’m so fortunate. I get to meet so many people. We couldn’t do what we do without all these volunteers.”

Metropolitan Police Officer E.D. Creamer, 31, who was on duty outside the center, also was helping load the bags of meals into delivery vans. “Yeah, I help out,” Officer Creamer said. “I’ve had four years [providing] security here on Thanksgiving.”

Food & Friends plans to build a 25,000-square-foot kitchen and delivery center at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue in Northeast so the group can serve more people.

“From that location, we will be able to serve 2 million meals a year,” Mr. Shniderman said.

The House of Imagene also runs a year-round shelter. Bishop Stewart is pastor of the Greater Pearly Gates Baptist Church and head of the District’s African-American Women’s Clergy Association.

The shelter, which has room for up to 10 families, takes in the homeless and the working poor. While the Thanksgiving meals will cease, the shelter, at 214 P St. NW, will remain open.

Homeless people can stay for a short time, and are required to find work. A big sign in the front window reads, “Never Give Up.”

“She definitely sends them out to look for work,” said Willistine Broadus of Suitland, who is one of Bishop Stewart’s closest friends. “One time, we had 13 people living here, in one family.”

Bishop Stewart said Thanksgiving is a holiday that people should celebrate together.

“Thanksgiving is a time when you should not be alone,” said Bishop Stewart, who is a chaplain of Tuskegee Airman Civil Air Patrol at Andrews Air Force Base and vice president of the American Legion Auxiliary.

In a blessing before yesterday’s dinner, Ida Fletcher, 53, deacon of First Baptist Church, prayed, “Thank you for Imagene, who has been doing Your work.”

Bishop Stewart said she will miss the annual dinner. “I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “I don’t think God would be pleased with me to walk away, even after 32 years.”

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