One hundred crates of chicken, a small truckload of vegetables and at least an igloo's worth of ice cream cones fed more than a thousand people yesterday at the Scripture Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Washington's Shaw neighborhood.
It was the third time in a year that the church, at 810 O St. NW, prepared a giant outdoor lunch for the neighborhood's poor and homeless.
"It seems that people are hungrier now," said the Rev. Clarence Long, the church's pastor.
"The number of people that come here increases every day."
Long said that 200 to 300 people arrive for the daily free lunch. "Most of them are between 18 and 35 years old," he said.
"They're the people who have lost their jobs during these times. We have teachers come in here, people with degrees. They're hungry, and their families are hungry."
Church volunteers said yesterday that they were expecting to feed as many as 2,000 people by day's end.
As loudspeakers broadcast gospel music and Long encouraged people to eat their fill, Patricia Wilkins, her mother and her four children waited in line, then watched as a volunteer at the laden outdoor steam table piled their plates high with fried and baked chicken, baked beans and candied yams, collard greens and baked macaroni.
"I want to say thank you to Jesus and to this church for feeding our minds and our hearts," Wilkins said.
"I couldn't really ever give the children a meal like this."
The Wilkins family was among almost 1,000 people who stood in line for the first sitting of the free meal.
Not even the sizzling temperatures could deter the crowd from sitting down at the two-block-long, tablecloth-covered banquet tables set out by Long's followers along the 800 block of O Street.
There wasn't a spot of shade and the metal chairs shone under the high-noon sun, but for the hungry, the food was comfort enough.
Many were elderly, and some had the glazed yellow eyes and slack mouths of the derelict.
Some seemed too weary for speech when asked if they liked the food, but everyone ate--carefully, slowly and with apparent enjoyment.
Jackie Clark said she had arrived at the church first thing Friday morning to help cook for yesterday's feast, and it was almost 11 p.m. before she was done.
Dressed in white like the other women behind the food table, she dished out plate after plate of baked chicken. "I consider myself one of the best cooks around," she said. "I enjoy doing this."