Thanksgiving is a singular American holiday. It is based not only on the concept of giving thanks for surviving, as the pilgrims did, but also on the concept of sharing the fruits of that good fortune with others less fortunate.
That is what took place at the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center on Jefferson Street last Saturday. Volunteers stretching across the age spectrum reached out to the community to bring to those less fortunate a Thanksgiving dinner of both physical and spiritual nourishment.
"It means a lot to me personally. I grew up poor. When I have a chance to give back to the community I jump at it," said Frank L. Stuart, president and CEO, Global Professional Solutions, Inc. He donated both money and manpower to the efforts of Tomorrow's Black Men and the Northern Virginia Regional Fatherhood Coalition to deliver Thanksgiving dinners to more than 400 low and very low income Alexandrians.
"Everybody should have a Thanksgiving dinner. That's an American tradition," Stuart said. His company, based in Kingstowne Village, specializes in program management and IT services for the counter-terrorism community. It has 200 employees worldwide.
Stuart is also is a staunch supporter of making sure underprivileged children have toys on Christmas morning. "We spend approximately $20,000 a year on those toys. We try to make sure that every child on the list gets at least three gifts that are things they want personally. Each gift is wrapped and has that child's name on them — just like they came from Santa," said Stuart, who serves on the Northern Virginia Urban League Board of Directors.
LAST SATURDAY afternoon Stuart was just one of a legion of volunteers packing a full Thanksgiving dinner into boxes to be given to 110 needy families representing 470 individuals, according to Thomas Carpenter, president, Tomorrow's Black Men. "This is the third year we have distributed these Thanksgiving dinners. The first year there were only 35 families, the second 100, and now 110," he said.
"This year we worked with the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Community Lodging, Alexandria Adult Services, and the Lee Center," Carpenter said.
"This is all purchased food thanks to the generosity of individual and business sponsors of the families. We raise funds from individuals and businesses and purchase the food from the Shared Network," Carpenter explained.
"This is the community taking care of the community. This is the real Thanksgiving," he said.
Shared Network brings together the resources and talents of many charitable and religious groups across the metropolitan area. They concentrate on health and nutrition needs of low-income families.
An active member and organizer, not only of this charitable endeavor but also of both sponsoring organizations, was ARHA's ombudsman for Community Safety and Family Outreach, Franklyn M. Malone. "In a city with a median income of $89,000 per year, we are serving families with incomes below $11,000 per year," Malone said.
"The families who will receive these meals are not on the other lists from the city's service network. We specifically check all the lists to make sure there is no duplication," he said.
Two other ARHA staff helping in the effort were Diania Brook, coordinator, Family Resource Learning Center, and Latisia Barns who works with children at the Learning Center on Montgomery Street. "We pick up meals and distribute then throughout the various ARHA housing projects," they explained.
"The families notify Social Services that they are not able to get to Lee Center for a variety of reasons. We come here pick up the meals and taken them to the residents," Brook said.
That meal consists of an eight-to-10-pound frozen turkey, sweet and white potatoes, stuffing, lettuce, apples, oranges, salmon, noodles and sausage links, according to Zach Tudor, a volunteer worker from Stuart's firm.
Sheryl Bell and Maria Lawhorne were both picking up their own dinners as well as nine others they had volunteered to distribute to others in their Old Town West community.
"I've known Tom Carpenter for a long while and I've worked with children for more than 25 years. This is one of the things that's really needed in this community — an effort to help others," Bell said.
Kimberly Funn was making that a reality for Charlotte Jeter, who lives in Alexandria's West End. Funn brought Jeter to the Center to pick up her dinner. "This is my first year to come here. It's really very nice of them to do this and it's so well organized," Jeter said. "We only heard of this through a friend," Funn added.
There were more than 30 individuals participating in the project at Lee Center last Saturday. Many of them were families, fathers, mothers and their children, all assisting in packing and distributing that traditional American Thanksgiving dinner — turkey with all the fixings.