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In D.C., giving thanks, and thanking those who give

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010

Plate after plate moved down a line of volunteers who loaded on cranberry sauce, then a roll, and then turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, greens, mashed potatoes and gravy.

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Plate after plate - about 5,000 in all - was loaded onto massive trays. Then the football team took over.

The players from Dunbar High School joined hundreds of volunteers Wednesday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a Thanksgiving feast for city residents in need of a warm, free meal and maybe some companionship.

This is the 11th year that Safeway supermarkets and other sponsors, including Metropolitan Baptist Church and the Salvation Army, have hosted the event. And it's not just a dinner; Wednesday's gathering also featured a job fair, health screenings and free clothing.

Dinner was served restaurant-style to people sitting at flower-laden tables. Dunbar's men's and women's basketball and track teams helped serve plates of food. The football team took care of handing out sodas. Soon after came a round of apple and pumpkin pie slices.

Angela Hawkins attended one of the dinners years ago, but didn't realize it was an annual event. Earlier this week, the 46-year-old mother was shopping for her Thanksgiving groceries in Northeast Washington when she realized she had lost her wallet. A Safeway employee invited her to the dinner.

"I thought that it was a one-time thing only, because it was so nice," said Hawkins, who attended Wednesday's feast with her 4-year-old son. "I might cook something tomorrow, go up to church, but nothing like this."

Safeway provided buses from their stores to the convention center for some in attendance. Others walked from surrounding neighborhoods.

Gwendolyn Daniel, 75, came with a group from her apartment building, Victory Heights in Northwest Washington. She wore a blue suit with a matching hat, and recalled previous Thanksgivings when the Salvation Army gave her large baskets of food for her five children, who are all grown.

"We come every year. Everything's so nice and there are kids everywhere," she said of the event. "I just love it, sitting down and relaxing."

Carlton Townsend, 47, looks forward to holiday dinners like this one each year. The dinner provided Wednesday by Safeway and earlier in the week by a nearby church are some of the best meals he has each year, he said.

Trying to make his own Thanksgiving dinner would be expensive, or he would have to spend "at least $15 or higher, really, depending on what restaurant you go to," said Townsend, who lives in Southeast.

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