Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick was due in Rome on Thanksgiving to meet with the pope. But the archbishop of Washington spent part of his Wednesday in an apron to help prepare holiday meals for people living with HIV, AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.
"In today's crazy world, we need to get out of ourselves to help other people," McCarrick said as he stuffed healthy portions of candied yams into plastic containers at Food & Friends, a Northeast Washington organization that fed nearly 3,000 people across the District, Maryland and Virginia on Thanksgiving.
As McCarrick packed the sweet potatoes, he reflected on the story of Felicia M. Dorsey, the 33-year-old mother who left two of her children in the commercial storage shed in Waldorf that was their home. McCarrick's distress about the case prompted him to call a radio station and speak out about the shortage of affordable housing for the poor.
"More and more, we realize that there is so much poverty, not just in the District and the inner city, but in the outside counties," McCarrick said. "I go down to Southern Maryland a lot to a place called Angel's Rest where we have battered women and children. We turn away from that facility nearly a dozen people a day."
McCarrick said the archdiocese is trying to raise money to build more facilities to serve the homeless in Southern Maryland, but he said there is a need to provide people with a range of services.
He applauded Food & Friends for going beyond being a provider of food to people living with HIV and AIDS in the District. The organization now serves 1,100 people coping with cancer and other life-threatening diseases in 14 surrounding counties.
Craig Shniderman, the executive director, said about 30 percent of the clients live in Prince George's County. This is one reason the organization moved last month from Southeast Washington to a new $8.6 million building on Riggs Road near the District line, he said.
"We are delivering as far as Hagerstown to the north and Fredericksburg to the south and all the way over to Anne Arundel County and all the way over to Fauquier and Loudoun County," said Shniderman, who had 450 volunteers to help deliver 3,000 meals for Thanksgiving.
Christian S. Wainwright, staff associate for the Washington archdiocese's Office for Social Concerns, said another huge problem in the region is the number of children who don't have access to health care. "Affordable housing is an issue all over the area, but health care is also a big issue," Wainwright said.
"I live near Langley Park, and thousands of kids in Langley Park don't have health care. They are poor, but they don't qualify for the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, and their families work two and three jobs to pay the rent and keep food on the table."
Underscoring that point, on Tuesday, the cafeteria of Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School in Langley Park was filled with families sifting through clothing donated by University Park Church of Christ. Outside the school, people were stuffing bags with groceries donated by businesses.
McCarrick said that these acts of kindness must be duplicated throughout the year and that those who have been blessed all know someone who could appreciate a helping hand now and then.
"There is nobody in our community who doesn't have someone who loves them," McCarrick said.
"That is the message of Thanksgiving. This is the message of Christmas, and this is the message all the year round."