The Hyattsville warehouse, all 24,000 square feet of it, was empty seven days before "D-Day." But Wayne Wilson knew he had to mobilize. For Wilson, who served as an infantryman in Vietnam, this effort was no different from moving tons of weapons, ammunition and supplies to the front lines.
Although "D-Day" is performed with precision logistics, its participants are not soldiers but students, mothers and senior citizens, and their goal is to distribute food one Saturday a month.
The program is a local chapter of Share, a nationwide food distribution effort founded in 1983 to help people stretch their dollars. With the warehouse serving 92 distribution sites around the region, Share gives out more than 4,000 bags of groceries one Saturday each month in less than four hours.
Last Saturday, Wilson's shirt was either drenched by the rain or soaked with sweat, but he couldn't stop because it was "D-Day," and many people were depending on him.
Everyone from Greg Patrone, the forklift driver at the warehouse, to Naomi Crusoe, who passes out rice and pasta at St. Francis DeSales distribution center in the District, keeps the food rolling.
For $13, the recipients get a five-pound bag of chicken drumsticks, a half-pound of burritos, a pound of ground turkey, 1.2 pounds of cod portions, 1.5 pounds of broccoli, a bag of carrots, a bunch of celery, an eggplant, two pounds of onions, four pounds of white potatoes, a three-pound bag of apples, five lemons, eight oranges, a pound of pasta shells, a pound of rice, a frozen vegetable and a container of margarine.
In addition to providing food, "We are trying to deal with the hunger of the spirit," said Wilson. To qualify for the reduced-price groceries, participants have to perform two hours of community service a month.
"It is a self-help and resource exchange program," he said. "In exchange for the community service, we give you a food package valued at $35."
One of the busiest jobs at the warehouse is at Broccoli Split Table C.
If an order is short of broccoli, the women there fill it. And every "D-Day" since the program began they have been splitting bushels of broccoli. "I need four broccolis, loose," said Arthur Scholfield, 48, a singer, actor and dancer who helps out with Share.
Gerald Anderson and Virginia Daniels both struggled to pull their carts full of vegetables, fruit and meats. They would distribute their food to more than 100 people at Mount Horad Baptist Church in Bladensburg.
Maudiline McCray didn't appear to be cut out for warehouse work, but the divinity student from Howard University gave the large cart of sweet potatoes and vegetables her best shot.
If she could get the cart out of the warehouse, it would wind up in the hands of 39 people at New Bethel Baptist Church in Shaw.
Judge James Belson of the D.C. Court of Appeals and Sergio McKelly, owner of Sergio's restaurant in Arlington, are working with Share. These men, both members of the Knights of Malta, brought Share to the area.
"There was a real need for this sort of thing in our area," said Belson, who added that his group became interested in Share after hearing it was already in more than 15 other cities. Belson said the Knights wanted to start a local chapter, but they needed people to help. Then, Catholic Charities got involved.
Charlotte King, executive director of Catholic Charities, is like the field general for the distribution. She walks around the warehouse with the skill of a foreman, but with lots of smiles and charm. "A year from now this program will be 10 times as big," she said.
"The people pay for their food," Belson said. "It is not a handout; they work for it and I just think it is a matter of dignity and a matter of earning what you are getting."
The warehouse is maintained by Alan Fogle, who is called "Mr. Fixit." He has a close staff: his wife, child, sister and brother-in-law.
Some of the food was shipped several miles from the warehouse to St. Francis DeSales School on Rhode Island Avenue NE, just inside the District.
The clock in the basement read 9:50 a.m. last Saturday and the room was packed, mostly with senior citizens waiting in line with their grocery bags. Two women at a table hurriedly took up the $13 payments, while Sharon Turner-Jackson nervously moved around making sure everyone was ready. At 10 a.m., Turner-Jackson gave the word, and distribution began.
Althea Battle helped teach at Shaed Elementary for her bag of groceries. Anne Felix helped a friend with a newborn baby to get her food.
Whitefield Arnette stood by as his wife finished stuffing grocery bags. He knew his house would also have a bag of groceries as soon as his wife was finished.
This program is a success, but "in the beginning people were skeptical," said Ben Parker, one of the coordinators at St. Francis. "They wanted to know what is the catch." The people at St. Francis appeared surprised by how much they received. However, they did look twice at the catch: the frozen codfish in their bags.