Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Demand for donated turkeys through the annual Harvest Feast program jumped this year as hard as the economy has fallen.

Charlie Brown, 47, started to worry about the kind of Thanksgiving he’d be able to provide for his six grandchildren when he lost his job two weeks ago.

“I was shocked. I knew the economy was bad but I never thought I’d find myself in a situation where I couldn’t pay for the Thanksgiving dinner,” he said Tuesday at the FedEx Field charity event. “It’s the first time I’m doing this.”

The Harvest Feast is sponsored by the Washington Redskins, Harris Teeter and Ryan Homes. Thirty Redskins players, including quarterback Jason Campbell, along with the Hogettes and 300 volunteers from the sponsoring organizations were on hand to make the event memorable.

Hard times were not enough to keep children from frolicking in the sun while their parents waited in line.

Mr. Brown was one of thousands of people identified by a Prince George’s County church, school or community group as in need for the holiday.

Starting at sunrise yesterday, hundreds gathered around the stadium to wait for the Redskins players to distribute Thanksgiving food. By noon, the line had spread all around the FedEx stadium.

“The crowd seems to have doubled since last year,” said Pam Erickson, vice president of Operation Blessing, an organization that gave bundles of food for the event and provides aid to deprived communities across the country. “With the crisis, a larger number of people are struggling to make ends meet.”

Organizers expected to give out more than 40,000 food baskets Tuesday, compared with 25,000 given away last year.

According to Mrs. Erickson, the number of people in need has increased 30 percent this year across the United States because of the economic downturn. “We increased the amount of product by 20 percent,” she said. “We want everyone who has waited in line to come home with something.”

Harris Teeter distributed 3,000 turkeys this year. In addition, Operation Blessing provided more than 90,000 pounds of packaged and fresh food. Redskins activity books, toys and treats were also given to every child who attended the event.

“This is awesome. It’s the first time I’m part of such a huge event that makes so many people happy,” said Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor, wearing his Redkins colors. “That’s part of the event for these people to be able to talk with football players. I’m just glad I can put a smile on their faces.”

“I feel like I’ve been in their shoes,” added wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, No. 12. “I wasn’t raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, so it’s good to give back to the community.”

On his way home, Mr. Brown was beaming. He had just met the Redskins players and received several bags of food including a turkey, green beans, onions, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

“Everything that makes Thanksgiving special,” he said. “Without the food, it would have been nothing. Thanks to this, my grandchildren will actually have a reason to be thankful.”

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