As residents of the greater Washington area brace for one of the coldest Thanksgiving Days in nearly two decades, examples of love and care for others made frigid temperatures seem almost bearable for countless numbers of less fortunate families.
And while most illustrations of kindness and concern for one’s brothers and sisters may never make headline news, one thing’s for certain: D.C.’s citizens did all they could to make this year’s “Turkey Day” a festive occasion for all. Here are just a few reminders.
Friendship Place Rebuilds Lives
Following its mission to encourage those experiencing or at risk of homelessness to attain stable housing and rebuild their lives remain the cornerstone for this housing service provider in Northwest.
In 2017, their programs ended or prevented homelessness for 1,500 people, using innovative, person-focused initiatives that helped those in need to find homes, become employed and reconnect with family and friends. On the days leading up to Thanksgiving, case managers delivered hundreds of turkeys and thousands of other grocery items to some of the area’s formerly homeless families.
One veteran and a divorced mother of a teenaged son said Friendship Place made all the difference when sudden illness brought her to the brink of losing her home.
“I’m thankful to be alive and will never forget how they helped me — and how God opened doors for me and my son,” said Jennifer R. Hayes, 45, a Woodbridge resident who remembers almost dying earlier this year in April.
“Veterans going through transition need help and I learned that while there’s money to help you after losing your home to regain it, options are few for those who desperately want to sustain their housing and stability. That’s what Friendship Place, especially my counselor, Shannon Young, did for me. I just needed some help. They made a way for me to get my VA disability claim moved quickly through the red tape, they paid my rent and they supported me, along with the Women’s Veterans Interactive until I could get back on my feet. It was awesome — they’re awesome,” said Hayes, who suffered four heart attacks and organ failure as a result of service-connected injuries.
“Veterans have shown their love for our country; it’s a shame that we’re so often forgotten,” she added.
Like Hayes, Mostafa El-Erain, an Egyptian-American and divorced father of two, 17 and 24, said words will never express his gratitude for the assistance he received from the staff of Friendship Place.
“It was incredible — they were like angels from the sky — and they don’t use a cookie cutter approach,” said El-Erain, 53, who lives in Tysons Corner and served in Iraq for eight years as a civilian advisor to the military.
“When I returned to the U.S., PTSD and other issues — trying to get over what I had experienced there — caused my life to fall apart,” he said. “I went through an ugly divorce, I fought to reconnect with my family and after once being a very successful lawyer, I didn’t have a job. I needed to become a productive member of society again. I needed to feel good about myself. And at all levels, the folks at Friendship Place understood me and what I was going through.”
“Sometimes we don’t want to ask for help. But I did. And they helped me move forward without feeling a sense of shame or humiliation. They’re a credible organization. More than anything else, they kept their promises — all of them,” he said.
Church Family Follows Mantra of Christ
In Ward 5, the Family Life Center and Project Feed 5000 provided over 2,000 families with complete Thanksgiving meal boxes that included turkeys, fresh produce, traditional sides and fixings and other breakfast items. In addition, they partnered with Carolina Kitchen to feed 1,500 people who needed hot meals on Thanksgiving Day. Why? Because as their leaders said, “the DC Metro Area has the second-highest food hardship and accessibility in the nation. We just followed the directive of Christ.”
Dr. Susie Owens, co-pastor, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast, and Carrie Hood-Clark, director for the Family Outreach Center, both say the work they and their members do for the community only serves to illustrate their obedience to Christ and their concern for their neighbors.
“Our goal is to eliminate as much hunger in the area as possible; we’re concerned about people and their needs and want others to know that we’re not just a house of worship. We’re also a place where human and physical needs will be met,” Owens said. “The gospels make it clear to us: just as Jesus took what we had available and made it last, made it even more so that thousands could be fed — and with more left over — we, too, have joined with others from the area to offer our help.”
Owens, whose vision served as the impetus for Project Feed 5000, found additional, willing partners in businesses and agencies including Aldi, Giant Foods, U-Haul, Bea Lamp and Capital Area Food Bank.
“People don’t often wear their needs on their sleeves, so unless they reach out to us, we may not know that they are in need,” Hood-Clark said. “That’s why we have to remain intentional about reaching out to those in our community.”
“We have to be about developing relationships, we must stay in touch. Maybe we’ve lost that touch these days. But the need has not disappeared. The need is there — even if we don’t see it. And we have to be there with services available 365 days of the year. No one should be forgotten even within the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” she said.
Trayon White, John Wall Focus Sights on Ward 8
Spreading cheer and providing turkeys, fixings and even tickets to a Washington Wizards basketball game, showed the concern that Councilmember Trayon White and Wizards star John Wall continue to have for those living East of the River.
Both partnered with local food businesses including Giant, to bring smiles on the faces and fill the stomachs of Ward 8 residents.
For Wall, he continued his nine-year commitment as a supporter of Bright Beginnings under the umbrella of The John Wall Family Foundation.
Meanwhile, White reached out to his Ward 8 family — a community for which he says he cares very deeply.
“Partnerships and events like [these] are instrumental in effectively impacting the community we serve … so that no family goes without food this holiday season,” said Dr. Marla Dean, executive director, Bright Beginnings.