From Ward 8, where Council member LaRuby May continued a tradition in Southeast on Monday, Nov. 23, established by the late Marion Barry, who served the District for over 30 years as mayor and council member, to the Verizon Center where nonperishable food donations poured in to support a community effort to feed over 3,000 families in the Greater Washington area, giving thanks and helping those less fortunate remained the focus as Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, approached.
And while the national holiday, celebrated in both Canada (in October) and in the U.S. (November), as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, traces its historical roots in long-established religious and cultural traditions, it has also been recognized in secular manners as well.
In the U.S., the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition can generally be traced to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts prompted by a good harvest for the Pilgrims and Puritans who began leaving England in the 1620s and carried the tradition of Days of Fasting to New England. Up until 1682, Thanksgiving proclamations were mostly made by church leaders in New England and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution.
George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America, marking Nov. 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”
In modern times, the U.S. president, in addition to issuing a proclamation, also pardons a turkey, which spares the bird’s life and ensures that it will spend the duration of it roaming freely on farmland.
Turkey, stuffing and sweet potatoes were just a few of the delicacies low-income residents and senior citizens received Saturday, Nov. 21, to share and eat with their families as part of the fifth annual Men Aiming Higher Thanksgiving Basket Outreach in Prince George’s County.
About 1,100 turkeys, 1,100 bags of food and 500 pounds of produce were distributed at Mount Ephraim Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro and VFW Post 9619 in Morningside.
Ernestine Edwards and Margaret Peoples were two of the first recipients at Mount Ephraim to pick up their bags of food ahead of those who stood in a line that stretched around part of the church.
“This is the first time I have been here. I needed the help this year, so I am very thankful,” said Edwards, 72, who along with Peoples resides at the Largo Landing Fellowship House assisted-living apartment complex in Upper Marlboro.
Men Aiming Higher, a nonprofit organization that mentors at-risk youth and young adults, is managed by state Delegate Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro. He established MAH in 2009 and was sworn into office in January.
The annual Thanksgiving event started five years ago with 25 families. Today, it’s helped feed thousands of low-income families through partnerships with Shoppers Food Warehouse and several community groups. Last year, at least 1,000 families received Thanksgiving meals handed out at three locations in the county with volunteers like members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority assisting.
County residents Glenn and Althea Doyle of Morningside praised Barnes and his organization.
“My granddaughter signed us up to receive this food. This is truly a blessing,” Glenn Doyle said as he packed bags of sweet potatoes, cabbage and spinach in a SUV at the VFW Post. “We really appreciate this. We are going to have the whole family over this Thanksgiving.”
Even those who work still need assistance, especially during the holidays.
“There is so much need this time of year. Groceries, utilities and rent all cost money,” said Renee Williams of Suitland, who placed bags of food in her car at the VFW building. “I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t need that little bit of extra help. God bless all the people that gave and the volunteers.”
Even District residents facing life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS enjoyed a free holiday dinner thanks to one organization’s tradition.
For three days, Food & Friends staff, along with hundreds of volunteers, prepared over 3,500 meals, which culminated with a mass assembly and delivery of meals on Thanksgiving Day from their facility on Riggs road in Northeast.
“The reality is that even during the holidays our clients who suffer from chronic and complex medical issues are unable to celebrate in the most basic and necessary way — with a warm Thanksgiving meal for their families,” Craig Shniderman, executive director of Food & Friends said.
Personnel and volunteers prepared 7,860 pounds of turkey, 1,050 pounds of roasted potatoes, 975 pounds of cornbread stuffing and 5,240 dinner rolls.
Each Thanksgiving delivery was prepared to feed five people, which gave recipients the opportunity to host dinner for friends and family.
Since 1988, Food & Friends has delivered more than 18 million meals to over 26,000 people.
The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization provides home-delivered, specialized meals and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses.
The services are free to recipients who qualify solely based on their health status and nutritional need. Clients must be referred by a health care provider for assistance. Staff and volunteers deliver to 5,300 square miles including the District of Columbia, seven counties in Maryland and seven counties and six independent cities in Virginia.
“These children and families deal with serious issues every day, but we can make Thanksgiving a much better holiday,” Shniderman said. “Setting some extra places at the table is our Thanksgiving tradition.”