Hundreds of volunteers from the D.C. area and beyond spent yesterday serving hot Thanksgiving meals to needy families or delivering food to those too sick to leave their homes.
They spent countless hours this week cooking turkeys, mashing potatoes and packaging meals in hopes of giving the area’s less fortunate something to be thankful for during the holidays.
To the volunteers, it’s about making a difference in at least one person’s life.
Bishop Imagene Stewart, 63, and about 25 volunteers were among those who spent several hours of their holiday feeding the homeless at the House of Imagene shelter in Northwest.
At 10 a.m. volunteers and shelter workers formed a serving line in the building’s front yard, so each of the estimated 1,500 men and women could get a full plate of turkey, ham, barbecued ribs, pumpkin pie and traditional holiday dressings and side dishes.
Mrs. Stewart, who is battling cancer, had vowed that last year’s feast would be her last. But after receiving an encouraging phone call from Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, she said she was inspired to continue. So Mrs. Stewart hosted the Thanksgiving feast for the 33rd straight year.
“I was homeless when I came up here with Martin Luther King in ‘63 … you don’t know when you’re going to be in the same situation,” said Mrs. Stewart, whose shelter has served 2,000 to 3,000 people in past Thanksgiving feasts.
“That’s the only way I made it in this town, people came and helped me,” she said.
Gusty winds and rainy weather didn’t dampen the holiday spirit. Some of the volunteers and the recipients danced to soulful Christmas and R&B tunes in the rain.
Phyllis Killion, a real estate agent from Fredericksburg, Va., said she and her husband, Don, have been serving at the House of Imagene on Thanksgiving Day for about 15 years.
“We feel like our day is not complete until we do this,” said Mrs. Killion, 50, as she served helpings of turkey to those in line. “One person really can make a difference.”
Like the Killions, most volunteers at the shelter have been coming year after year to help out.
Avery Tynes, a Metro bus operator who lives in Southwest, said he volunteered yesterday for the fifth straight year because it keeps him “grounded.”
“I’m from a big family of nine brothers and sisters, and my family’s always cooking on Thanksgiving,” Mr. Tynes, 39, said. “We come down here to help the less fortunate. It gives me a warm feeling in my heart.”
Mrs. Stewart said nothing will stop her from hosting the dinner. Her mother, Mattie Bigham, died Wednesday in Dublin, Ga. Mrs. Stewart said she will attend her mother’s funeral tomorrow, but for now the show must go on.
“I’ve been into this all my life,” she said. “She would be more than happy that I continued on.”
Elsewhere in the region, other volunteers put their own festivities on hold to serve the needy.
At the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) in Northwest, about 115 volunteers gathered in the D.C. Central Kitchen to serve dinner to about 2,300 homeless people.
“The idea is to see how things really are in this world with people who are truly homeless, and to understand that for most of these people this is the only hot meal they’ll have all year,” said Jim Holson, an Annapolis resident who owns a construction company.
Like many others at CCNV, Mr. Holson, 50, is a regular volunteer. Yesterday, he coordinated the food distribution.
Others, such as Javier Elliott, 11, of Mitchellville experienced Thanksgiving in a new light for the first time. He came to the Central Kitchen with his father, Carl, and other relatives.
“I just wanted to help out the homeless and make sure they had a good time for Thanksgiving,” Javier said as he swept the floors yesterday morning.
At the National Synagogue in Northwest, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld held an interfaith and open-door service for those forced to spend Thanksgiving alone. The service featured a black gospel choir singing songs from the Jewish liturgy. A meal with traditional and kosher Thanksgiving trimmings followed.
About 20 volunteers helped prepare and serve the meals.
“I’ve never met 90 percent of these people before in my life,” Mr. Herzfeld said. “Thanksgiving is a day where people want to give.”
Neil and Audrey Siegel, of Kemp Mill, brought their six children along to help out.
“We usually go away for Thanksgiving, but since we were in town we thought it’d be nice to help other people,” said Mrs. Siegel, 40. “It’s nice for a synagogue to help anyone who needs it.”
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, local charities were inundated with volunteers looking to serve.
At Food & Friends in Northeast, staff and 450 volunteers worked through the week to prepare more than 10,000 pounds of food that was delivered to D.C.-area residents living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Sharon Dorsey, of Arlington, who works for the Marriott Corp., heard about Food & Friends from the Single Volunteers organization. She brought her two children — Samantha, 20, and John, 16 — with her on Wednesday to help out.
“I grabbed the kids this morning and told them they were volunteering,” said Ms. Dorsey as she took a break from stirring a huge pan of mashed potatoes. “I’m very lucky to have a good job, and we have our health. This is for the people who aren’t as lucky.”
Several volunteers arrived at 5 a.m. yesterday to load and deliver the pre-made Thanksgiving meals.
“It’s the most fun day of the year,” said Craig Shniderman, executive director of Food & Friends.
“To see people volunteer when you wouldn’t expect it, on a great American holiday, in bad weather … it’s a wonderful thing.”