Marcia Cottros, member of the Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, takes a guest’s order. She has been helping serve food at the dinner for the last four years. “It’s something I like doing every year,” she says. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Photo by Fallon Forbush.
McLean Those who couldn’t make it home for the holiday were invited to gather at the Lewinsville Retirement Residence in McLean on Thanksgiving Day to share a meal.
The dining room was overflowing with volunteers and guests who were reminded of the reason for the holiday: to give thanks.
“It’s not always easy to be grateful … we get used to the comforts around us,” Spencer Deese, 25, said during a short message during the dinner’s worship service. “Gratitude takes practice, just like any other skill.”
Guests were invited to write down what they were grateful for on paper leaves that were scattered on the tables. These leaves were then hung on a tree of gratitude in the center of the dining room.
This display of appreciation is thanks to the insistence of one high school student.
THE LEWINSVILLE PRESBYTERIAN Church in McLean had a history of serving a Thanksgiving meal to those seeking refuge at the Bethany House of Northern Virginia, an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence. When that tradition ceased, Kendall Deese felt like something was missing in her family’s holiday.
“[Kendall] had been doing that her whole life on Thanksgiving and was very unhappy,” says her mother Pamela Deese, who is an elder at the church.
“From 8:30 a.m. ‘til 3 p.m., we would be doing this on Thanksgiving,” says Kendall, now an 18-year-old freshman at American University. “It was a constant staple in our lives and it was so weird not having it. The feeling of gratitude that you get making people happy is just extraordinary.”
So, she and her mother started organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for the elderly and college students who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Now in its fourth year, it keeps growing.
“If you want a community to have Thanksgiving dinner with, we’re offering it,” says Pamela. “We always get graduate students and international students who cannot go home and a lot of elderly who cannot go anywhere.”
Volunteers who help with logistics also sit down and dine with those who attend.
“It’s like having a family dinner, but with a very large family,” says Pamela.
In 2015, 95 people attended. This year, 150 were expected to join the Deese family and the volunteers. Since the church dining room only holds 100 people, they changed the venue to the retirement residence.
“We send everyone home with another meal, so we try to feed 200 people each year,” Pamela says.
The church opened the residence in September 1980 and it has been the church’s largest mission project. It has 161 apartments housing approximately 165 residents, who all receive some rental subsidy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 Housing Program or the Fairfax County Affordable Dwelling Unit Program.
THIS IS THE FIRST TIME a professional chef, Donna Bolton with the residence, is helping with the event.
Early in the morning, Alexandra Foster, 24, a third-year law student at American University from Rhode Island, helped make coffee and assemble the cheese and cracker plates for the meal.
“I wasn’t able to go home for the holiday and I wanted to be around people to get into the holiday spirit,” she says.
Pamela says it feels good to see people enjoying themselves and wanting to come back each year.
“The whole idea is the gift of love,” says Pamela. “We’re supposed to extend love and warmth to the community that we live in. If there was ever a time you needed to do that, it’s right now.”