Barry's turkey giveaway leaves many empty-handed

Tempers grew short at D.C. Council member Marion Barry's Thanksgiving turkey giveaway after there were more people than turkeys.
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Police were needed to calm tempers at a Southeast Washington church Tuesday after a turkey giveaway by D.C. Council member Marion Barry ran out of birds and hundreds of people had to be turned away.

"They made a promise that they couldn't keep," Linda Jackson said as she left Union Temple Baptist Church with only a crumpled piece of paper reading, "Councilmember Marion Barry's Ward 8 Turkey Giveaway."

Brenda Richardson, who coordinated the event, said many people were turned away because they could not provide proof that they were residents of Ward 8. "There was a process. People were supposed to sign up, and if there were turkeys left, then we would give them to other District residents, but all of the turkeys are spoken for," she said.

Charities are reporting an increase in the number of people lining up for free turkeys this Thanksgiving, due to high unemployment and the country's economic difficulties.

"The demand is great," said Ward 8 activist James Bunn, who was ushering people into a line that extended from the basement of Union Temple Baptist, up the stairs, through the sanctuary, out the front door and to the end of the block. "We got a lot of people this year that we normally don't see."

Barry, who raised $20,000 to buy the turkeys, called it a "sad commentary that people have to wait in line" for food in "the richest nation in the world."

Turkeys and boxes of other food items were being given out at venues across the Washington area, including the Goshen Worship Center in Forestville and the Scriptural Cathedral in Northwest. Bishop C.L. Long, pastor of Scripture Cathedral, said that his church has been feeding about 1,000 families during Thanksgiving for years but that the need has never been greater. "We have been feeding the homeless since 1984, and I thought that it would get better, but it is getting worse."

As he and family members prepared boxes of food, the Rev. Simeon Corum, pastor of Goshen Worship, said feeding the poor has become especially important this year. "When the people hurt, the church hurts. There are so many people who are losing so much. They come down, they are depressed, they don't know how they are going to come out. But we give them a glimmer of hope."

The Rev. Mark McCleary, pastor of the First Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Northwest, operated the church's lunchtime soup kitchen this week in addition to giving out turkeys. He said that many of the people who eat there four times a week have jobs but are short on funds.

"Many of these folks here have chronic cash-flow problems, and with the economic condition, we have had an increase," McCleary said. "It is a sacrifice for the church, but what are you going to say?"

Debra Cross, a 40-year-old unemployed mental health worker, expressed thanks to God as she walked out of Union Temple Baptist Church with a turkey and other food. "This means that all of what I have tried to give to God, He has given back to me," Cross said. "It is a blessing."

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