Across the region, Thanksgiving focuses on the 'giving'

Since Thanksgiving was created, politicians and residents of the District have celebrated the holiday through food, charity and religion.
By Caitlin Gibson and Nathan Rott
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 9:45 PM

Fourteen years ago on Thanksgiving Day, Randy and Necola Staples loaded a holiday feast and their 1-year old son into the family van, drove to downtown Washington and passed out hot meals to every needy person they passed.

"We wanted to have a Thanksgiving tradition for our family," said Randy, 40, "and to show our kids that there is more to Thanksgiving than sitting around and eating."

The tradition stuck - and, as need has grown in the area, so has their custom. On Thursday, the Staples family dished out turkey, ham, sweet potatoes and more.

Only this time, they traveled from their home in Silver Spring to two locations, Franklin Park at 13th and I streets NW, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, where they distributed about 700 meals. They had help from more than 200 volunteers, mostly strangers who had heard of the Staples family tradition by word-of-mouth.

The Staples's three sons have never spent Thanksgiving without serving food. Son Randall, 15, said he plans to keep it that way.

"I'm going to take it over someday," he said.

Demand for such help has jumped in recent years. Charitable organizations throughout the region say the number of people seeking food, shelter and emergency services has increased by 30 percent to 50 percent since the recession hit two years ago.

"The need is certainly up," said Ken Forsythe, spokesman for the Salvation Army's regional command.

The Salvation Army has helped about 8,000 people in the Washington area this holiday season, Forsythe said. It served 200 Thanksgiving dinners Thursday - about a 25 percent jump from last year - at the Waterford Restaurant in Fairfax County.

In the District, the number of homeless families grew by 10 percent over the past year, said John Adams, president and chief executive of So Others Might Eat, an interfaith organization that provides food, clothing, health care and social services to the District's homeless.

The 40-year-old organization has kept up with demand through a steady flow of donations, even as the economy has challenged thousands in the area, Adams said. "Many families, even as things get tougher for them, know that people below them are having an even worse time," he said.

At SOME, staff members and volunteers work to treat the the homeless with dignity and respect, Adams said, a principle that was evident on Thanksgiving, as staff members and volunteers prepared the dining room for a midday lunch service. The tables recalled a restaurant with careful settings and presentation.

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