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Gratitude And Giving All Around

In Free Meals and Footraces, Kindness Carries the Day

By Timothy Dwyer and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page B01

James Enos-Edu stepped onto the footstool so he could see over the giant pot of instant mashed potatoes bubbling on the stove in the church kitchen. A trained chef, he had turned a dozen volunteers into his kitchen army. They had worked in shifts from well before dawn, standing at a long stainless steel table, carving up 45 turkeys that Enos-Edu had roasted the past two days.

He cooked until 3 a.m. yesterday, then allowed himself a two-hour nap before going back to work making and baking mountains of stuffing and cooking gallons of gravy and great steaming pans of corn and green beans accented with chopped tri-color peppers.

Gov. Mark R. Warner, right, runs alongside Jason Keiber, 25, of the District, in the white headband, and Kyle Pearson, 24, of Arlington, in the blue headband, in Alexandria's Turkey Trot. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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An assembly line was put together in the hallway where volunteers filled Styrofoam containers with individual meals complete with bread, pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. "We're waiting for the potatoes, James," one volunteer said, rushing into the kitchen. Enos-Edu looked down from his perch on the footstool above the pot. "They are ready now," he said.

The effort in the kitchen of St. Stephen's United Methodist Church in Burke was just one of the many acts of kindness, sharing and celebration on Thanksgiving across the Washington region. For some people, that meant donating cans of food before running through the rain in morning road races across the region. For others, it meant donating their time or chopping skills. For Enos-Edu, a native of Liberia who came to the United States when he was 21 -- 32 years ago -- it meant doing what he does each Thanksgiving in his adopted land: taking care of others who need it.

Enos-Edu and his volunteers fed more than 250 homeless and needy residents of Fairfax County yesterday. The meals were sent to homeless families living in motels and on the streets in Fairfax County. Volunteers from FACETS (Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services) set up a distribution point in a plumbing supply store on Lee Highway, where the homeless came to collect a Thanksgiving meal.

At the Alamo Mexican Restaurant in Riverdale Park, owners and volunteers expected to serve 300 free meals by midafternoon. For the third year, the Mexican eatery collaborated with the Christian Life Center to provide meals to people who are needy or homeless or just had nowhere else to go. Reflecting the changing demographics of Riverdale Park, many who dropped in to eat were poor and working-class Latino immigrants.

More than a dozen volunteers, including Guy Tiberio, mayor of Riverdale Park, helped seat people and served them turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green beans.

Salvadoran immigrants Ivan Cruz, 37, and his friend Dennis Rosa, 27, planned to drive around looking for an open restaurant but, by chance, stopped in the parking lot shared by the Alamo and a handful of other businesses and learned that Thanksgiving dinners were free.

The two friends settled into a booth and enjoyed a far more elaborate meal than they had anticipated. "I wasn't expecting this. I live alone, so I wasn't even going to eat turkey today," Cruz, who works at a car dealership, said in Spanish.

"It's very nice," added Rosa, a car mechanic who also lives alone. Cruz and Rosa said that they are single and that most of their relatives are in Latin America.

The Rev. Ben Slye of the Christian Life Center said the Thanksgiving feast is part of his church's outreach ministry. Church volunteers also delivered meals yesterday to elderly shut-ins and distributed free clothing, including winter caps and jackets, outside the restaurant.

Slye noted that the restaurant is owned by Charles and Vivian Shih, who are Chinese immigrants. "We've got the United Nations here today," Slye said.

In Alexandria yesterday morning, more than 2,000 runners lined up for the 29th annual Turkey Trot. Among them was Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who was given bib No. 1.

"Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday," said Warner, who was running the five-mile race with his three daughters and a niece. "At Christmas, we do different things each year. But Thanksgiving, we always come back to Alexandria, always run this race."

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