Samuel Kava (George Washington University), Nathaniel Miller (University of Berkeley School of Law), Wendy Gomez (Dickenson College), and Cajay Jacobs (Cornell University), formed the Thanksgiving basket assembly line at Bread for the City. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Lines snaking through the lobby of Bread for the City, a full-scale social services agency for District residents in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, were rivaled only by the lines of volunteers and pantry aids in the alley behind the Northwest building, unloading the contents of what would become much-needed Thanksgiving meals.  Large numbers of city dwellers – mostly college students – came out in droves to help those in need.

“I came to help out because I love to help people, and even when they do not have the words to express their gratitude, you can see it in their eyes,” Ian Stevenson, a volunteer and a recent accounting graduate from Prince George’s Community College told the AFRO.  “The more people help out from the heart, the better we will be.”

With almost one in five D.C. residents living at or below the poverty line, the numbers represent the third highest rate in the nation, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2014 report.  Nearly 61,000 people live in extreme poverty, unable to meet even their basic needs, including purchasing food, with 16 percent of the D.C. population experiencing food hardship, or not having enough money to buy food for themselves or their family in the last 12 months.

“These statistics are further complicated by the holidays that center around food as festivities, and also usher in a week when children and teens normally nourished through free public school meals, are at home,” Theresa Morales, a volunteer with the D.C. Central Kitchen told the AFRO.  “It is during this time that the kindness and generosity of strangers, volunteers, and the community, literally fill the gap.”

Others like, Marjorie Englehart, are prepping their homes to receive college students unable to travel home for the holidays.  The grandmother of eight college students told the AFRO) she believes in being a “surrogate granny” for those who are far from home.

“Thanksgiving is one of the saddest times each year for those who are away from their families, especially college students in this strange and wonderful city of ours,” said Englehart, who has opened her home for the past three years to area students.  “Sometimes the kids don’t even eat, they just want someone to dote on them and hug them. We never stop needing hugs.”

Royce Clark and his wife Ella, packaged palm-sized pumpkin pies to help win souls with their door-to-door ministry. Visiting mostly convalescing homes and dwellings for the aged, the Clarks said too often infirmed elders miss their families on Thanksgiving.

“A lot of hurting people give up on life when the rest of the world forgets about them,” Clark said. “We want the sick and shut in to know that they are not shut out from God’s love or people who are willing to sit and be a shoulder or ear for them.”

In addition to several shelters and churches offering Thanksgiving meals, restaurants and food retailers across the region, including Applebee’s, Denny’s, Ikea, Olive Garden, Red Robin, and Texas Roadhouse are offering free holiday meals to veterans.