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Making a Place for All At Thanksgiving Table

The group, a consortium of 23 charities and government agencies, collected food and used coats from area residents and plans a similar effort, including a toy giveaway, for needy families at Christmas, said coordinator Susan Jane Stack.

Some groups offering holiday baskets this year say they've seen demand climb sharply. SERVE Inc., a Manassas nonprofit organization that offers emergency food, clothing and shelter, expects to have handed out more than 2,000 boxes of Thanksgiving food by today, double the number it distributed last year.

Irene Hurley, left, and Jean Gray, volunteers from Round Hill Baptist Church, fill Thanksgiving food bags at the Loudoun Community Holiday Coalition. More than 900 families signed up to get food. (Photos Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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"What we find is that when the economy improves, it's actually worse for our clients," said Lindy Garnette, executive director of SERVE, which stands for Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Efforts. In an improving economy, the cost of living often increases while low wages remain stagnant.

Organizations that offer meals to the needy every day pull out all the stops on Thanksgiving.

Carpenter's Shelter for the homeless in Alexandria will have a special Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon for about 50 residents and then offer leftovers for the evening meal, said Laila Ali, the organization's volunteer coordinator.

And Fairfax Area Christian Emergency and Transitional Services, or FACETS, a Fairfax County organization that provides hot meals to the homeless, has cooked 25 turkeys and all the trimmings, donated by Lockheed Martin Corp.

Volunteers will hand out the meals to homeless families living in motels on Route 50 in Fairfax and other homeless individuals in the county today, spokeswoman Monika Taylor said.

The staff of PRS Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides psychiatric rehabilitation services in Fairfax and Falls Church, is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at its new facility in southern Fairfax County.

"People who live with mental illness are often alone on the holidays," said PRS Chief Executive Wendy Gradison, "and it's such an important time to be together. . . . They just need to be around family and friends, and that's what we represent."

Some groups focus on bringing holiday cheer without the calories. About 150 volunteers from the Holiday Project plan to visit residents of at least two nursing homes in the area today, including Potomac Center in Crystal City.

"We go room to room and spend time with people," said Sally Cooney, a member of the group's steering committee. "We talk to them and bring them small gifts -- a teddy bear or something." She said the group performs the same service at other holidays throughout the year.

Although charities welcome donations and diners, there's one thing they don't want -- more volunteers to serve meals.

At this time of the holiday season, they say, they are bombarded with phone calls from well-meaning individuals and families who want to come to their facilities on Thanksgiving day to serve dinner to the needy.

"That happens every year," said the Salvation Army's Tidman with a sigh. "We often end up with more volunteers at Thanksgiving than we can utilize effectively and not enough at some of the other activities we are trying to do at this time of the year."

The group still needs volunteers to ring the bell at its red kettles and to help distribute gifts from its Angel Tree program before Christmas, Tidman said.

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