Estella Neal had decided there was no "turkey money" this Thanksgiving.
Then the Metrobus came loaded with two large turkeys accompanied by stuffing, yams, string beans, corn bread and a $15 supermarket gift certificate.
Today, Neal, most of her children and many of her grandchildren will feast on the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal at their fraying Northeast Washington house because of the two Metrobus drivers who "adopted" the family two years ago.
"Most people associate Metro with transportation, but not around here," said Neal.
"Metro" is actually the nickname they gave to the bus drivers who for the past two years have appeared on the Neals' weathered porch with food, clothing, gift certificates and advice as part of their adopt-a-family program.
"The idea is to help out a family that really needs it," said Michael Myrick, the group's informal leader. "I believe our presence in their lives can really make a difference, but not for just one day. What happens to them the other 364 days?
"This family needed more than food, they needed other outlets and they needed to know someone cared," he said.
Myrick and his 300 coworkers at the Metro Western Division at Wisconsin Avenue and Jenifer Street NW decided to adopt a family for an entire year after learning of a similar program at a Maryland Metro garage.
In 1983 they asked the D.C. Department of Human Services to select a family headed by a single mother who received public assistance and had at least five children. The Neals, the first family adopted by the drivers, more than qualified.
"They were everything we were looking for and more," Myrick said, referring to Neal's 12 children, who range in age from 5 to 32, and her 14 grandchildren.
This year the drivers adopted an Hispanic family of 10 children who "were very appreciative of all the help" they had received but who speak little English.
"We really had a hard time with communication because the mother does not speak any English and we don't speak Spanish," Myrick said of the family from the Dominican Republic who moved here six years ago. "We gave them food and clothing, but they did not want to participate in our other activities." They also received a complete Thanksgiving Day dinner, he said.
Myrick feels a special kinship to the program because he comes from a family of eight and can testify to the hardships of "not having" and "hanging around," he said.
"I remember when I was their age," he said looking at a photogragh of the Neal children. "Any of these kids could easily be me."
The drivers adopt a new family each December and invite them to the bus garage for a Christmas party where they are given baskets of food piled high with a turkey, ham, fruits, vegetables and "goodies." They also receive clothing and supermarket gift certificates.
For the next year the family receives invitations to a number of summer picnics, fashion shows, parties and holiday celebrations and receives more food and clothing.
"The Christmas party was bad," recalled Elizabeth Neal, 14. "We saw fashion shows, and they even had boys doing the pop."
"It gave us something to do," said her 16-year-old brother Joseph. "It gets boring just hanging around all the time."
Myrick, who was born and raised in Northwest Washington, understood the dangers of "just hanging around" and visited the family a few times each month to inquire about schoolwork, grades and behavior.
"If they weren't going to school or messing up I would get on their case," he said. "Sometimes we had to get them dressed and hold an inspection at the house before one of our outings," he added.
Myrick's feelings were shared by another member of the "Metro" team, Priscilla Alston, who remembers how her family, with four brothers and sisters, struggled to help make ends meet during her childhood in Infield, N.C.
"I was raised to believe that if people are in need then you should give generously to help them. I just care about people, and I guess I always will," said Alston.
Myrick praises his coworkers at the Western Division who contribute food, clothing and money to the families.
"We had food, clothes, and the children had toys for Christmas," Estelle Neal recalled. "If we had a problem, all we had to do was call Metro . . . . It was the best year this family ever had."
But Myrick said he could not find it in his heart to "completely let go."
"They always show up when we need them most," Neal sighed. "I just keep hoping they don't forget us."