In an annual ritual that is a combination of charity and old-school ward politics, about 2,000 people lined up for hours Tuesday morning to get a free turkey from D.C. Council member Marion Barry.
Barry’s annual turkey giveaway, held this year at Union Temple Church in Anacostia, required D.C. police and federal Department of Homeland Security officers to oversee the lines that stretched for more than a block.
But Barry’s giveaway largely went off without incident after he solicited about $40,000 in donations to buy about 2,000 turkeys. Any resident who could prove that they were a Ward 8 resident was eligible for one free turkey, packed neatly in a blue reusable shopping bag.
“I need help and need for my family,” said Terry Daniels, 48, who waited in line for nearly three hours to receive his turkey. “I’m a single father and I need a little help and I thank God for this blessing.”
As is often the case, Barry’s turkey giveaway generated some national attention this year after he initially declined to say who was paying for the turkeys. In an interview with the Washington City Paper, Barry said “only liberal white people” care about whether he was abiding by council disclosure rules.
Since then, Barry has noted that the turkey giveaway is being co-sponsored by Chartered Health Plan, Walmart, William C. Smith, Chapman Development, Intralot, United Health Care, Fort Myer Construction and Union Temple Baptist Church.
All the donors, including a $5,000 donation from Walmart, do extensive business with the D.C. Council and government. But Barry said the turkey donations were routed through a nonprofit, making him only a figurehead not required to report the gifts to the Office of Campaign Finance.
Barry arrived at Union Temple Church shortly after the first turkeys were handed out at 10 a.m. When he stepped out of his Jaguar, the crowd of people waiting in line began chanting, “We love you,” “We voted for you,” and “Barry, Barry.”
Relishing the attention, Barry told reporters that the line underscored the need in Ward 8.
“The problem we have is extreme poverty in Ward 8,” said Barry, referring to a poverty rate of about 35 percent. “At least 15 to 20,000 families would like to have a turkey, and need food and need support, so this is my small way of helping out with 2,000 turkeys.”
When asked to clarify his remark about liberal white residents, Barry said he was referring to the media.
“What (expletive) me off is the media focuses on who gave the money for the turkeys, but these are from people who are of good will and care about this community,” Barry said. “We are going to continue to uplift this community, continue to transform Ward 8.”
Though some in line complained about the wait, Barry’s turkey giveaway this year appeared orderly. After residency was verified, recipients got a ticket and were told to go the basement of the church for their turkey.
Once downstairs, they had to pass through a series of booths with baskets of fruits, literature explaining nutritional portions for meals, and samples and recipes for side dishes such as squash soup.
They were then handed their turkey.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Virginia Bowman. “It’s a blessing. … It’s part of what Mr. Barry does. He’s always giving back to the community.”
A few, however, weren’t so grateful.
“Its unorganized,” said William Alston El, 64. “We are seniors, old people, and we are sitting here for a turkey? Just pass out the turkey so we can go.”
Barry, meanwhile, is thinking ahead to next year’s turkey giveaway. Barry said he would most likely broaden it, perhaps by securing money from District taxpayers.
“It is tragic, in America, and in Washington, you have people in line for turkeys,” Barry told reporters. “There is a war on poor people. … Taxpayers who support this government ought not to have people hungry.”