Equipped with gratitude, serving spoons and massive quantities of roasted poultry, Washington area residents pitched in yesterday to ensure that others less fortunate also got to enjoy a bounteous Thanksgiving.
Charity volunteers, religious groups, hotel employees and individual do-gooders took time out from football and feasting to serve turkey dinners and hand out gifts to the needy and to workers who had the misfortune of pulling a holiday shift.
"This is the best way to start off Thanksgiving," said Randy Staples, 32, as a line of volunteers dished turkey, macaroni and cheese, rice and gravy into Styrofoam containers and handed them to worn-looking men in McPherson Square in downtown Washington.
Staples and his wife, Necola -- along with their three children, friends and co-workers from his Pentagon office and her consulting job -- carted down enough turkey and fixings yesterday morning to feed 200 people at the square, a popular gathering place for the homeless. It was their ninth year there, the couple said.
Most recipients said they were grateful for the hot meal.
"It's nice for the people to come out," said Thomas, 48, who declined to give his last name. "I didn't expect all this. Everything you can have at home is all here."
Across the park, a dozen volunteers from the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Organization's spiritual center in Bethesda handed out new blankets and toiletries -- an annual tradition for the group, said member Mohan Ram.
The beneficiaries, mostly men, murmured their thanks as they moved by, some balancing their containers of food on top of their gifts.
"We love doing this," said Ram, beaming. "We like to do service to humanity. . . . The spirit of service is very important."
Not all efforts were organized by groups. Bowie resident Sherry Johnson decided to help out after watching TV news Wednesday night and seeing how many others were celebrating Thanksgiving without much.
Yesterday, Johnson took a full Thanksgiving dinner -- turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad and pie -- to a homeless single mother with two young children living in a Takoma Park motel. A local nonprofit group, Washington Cares, matched them.
"I think this should fill them up," Johnson, 40, said with a laugh.
In Bladensburg, more than two dozen homeless mothers and their children from the Shepherd's Cove shelter had a turkey dinner arranged by neighbors Carrie Pittman and Renee Webb.
A new restaurant, Mango, had donated its dining room, while Pittman, Webb and their friends dashed around the event, making sure everyone had enough to eat and was having a good time.
"It's overwhelming," said Pittman, 31, who cooked 12 turkeys and a ham for the dinner.
In a booth near a window, Crystal Shaw, 33, and her 7-year-old son, Donnathon, polished off their food, while daughter Rosalia, 4, stirred her soda, more interested in the bustling scene than the food.
"This is my plate," Shaw said with a smile, pointing to her empty plate. "And that is his plate," pointing to her son's, which contained only a chicken bone.
Donnathon said his favorites were the chicken and the apple pie. "And the yams was good," he added.
Those who had to work yesterday were not forgotten. The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown offered a candlelight-and-tablecloth dinner to more than 200 District emergency workers in a Mayflower moving van parked outside the building.
Hotel employees waited on them at every turn, serving turkey and ham. The uniformed men and women arrived in groups ranging from a nine-person engine company to a single U.S. Park Police officer. Frank Sinatra crooned from a stereo.
For as long as the food was being served, everyone was family.
"It's just a blessing," said District paramedic Merilyn Holmes, after emptying a plate of turkey, ham, stuffing and greens. "I'm full."
Paramedic Walter Alfaro snapped a photo with his digital camera that he would show to his wife, Maria, who was at home struggling with dinner and calling him every half-hour to report on her progress. Alfaro usually cooks the family's holiday meal.
Between bites, paramedic Marcus Trotter, 29, recalled helping his wife, Charmain, with the turkey at 4 a.m., then reporting for his 7 a.m. shift.
"I don't mind working," Trotter said. "We're essential."
For those who didn't have time to sit and eat, volunteers made them plates to go. FBI Police Officer Melanie De Leon, originally from Texas, said her family was disappointed when she said she would have to work. But she was making the best of it.
"I'm looking forward to the stuffing -- carbs," she said, as she waited for her meal to be packed. "Turkey is always good."