At the church ministry next door, Thanksgiving baskets complete with turkey and fixings were being distributed in the spirit of the season.
But for many of the people standing in line yesterday outside 1416 Ninth St. NW, the steaming plates of roast turkey, baked ham, cornbread dressing and vegetables being handed out at "Lil Your Hairdresser" offered more help.
"This is real good, this is nice," said Rhonda Robinson, 19, explaining that she lives in a room without heat or a kitchen so she "couldn't do a lot with a basket."
Lillie B. Curry, 62, who is the "Lil" in the name posted on the tiny storefront, said she started her own Thanksgiving tradition to help people like Robinson after she was asked to buy turkeys that people with no cooking facilities had received as holiday giveaways.
"They don't need food baskets. They need a good hot meal," Curry said.
And about 500 people got just that yesterday as Curry served up her 19th annual free dinner.
Robinson, mother of an 18-month-old daughter and now eight months pregnant, said she had nowhere else to go for a holiday meal.
Others standing in the line in the crisp, sunny weather echoed her predicament.
"I don't live on the street, I have an apartment with cooking privileges," said Barbara, who didn't want to give her last name. "But I live on a fixed income." The dinner provided by Curry will "probably be the only Thanksgiving dinner I'll get," she said.
"I'm hungry," said Bob Lee, 26, explaining why he was standing in the line outside the beauty salon.
Lee, who said he came to Washington eight months ago from Philadelphia, said he lost his job as a carpet cleaner two months ago. He said he is staying "anywhere I can," which currently is a "vagrancy house on Connecticut Avenue."
"This is the first time I had something free," Curtis Roach insisted. Roach, 43, said he recently lost his job as a janitor at a nearby apartment building slated for renovation.
Inside the small hairdresser's shop, with its green, yellow and pink walls, Curry, members of her family and a few other helpers formed a cheerful production line filling plates for the one-day event.
The family worked from trays piled high with food set on three folding tables lining one side of the crowded shop. Covered reserves of food on warming trays filled the individual hairdresser booths lining the opposite wall.
Surveying the feast that included five turkeys, four hams, six bushels of fresh greens, gallons of giblet gravy and endless aluminum trays of corn pudding, rice, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, black-eyed peas, cranberry sauce and cornbread dressing, Curry said she and her daughers, Alberta, Eugenia and Wanda had cooked for a week getting ready for the event.
The food was purchased with $340 Curry saved during the year in a tin can and $80 contributed by friends.
As Curry's husband Eugene wielded an electric carving knife, a group of men dressed in green maintenance-type uniforms who said they were D.C. government workers gathered outside. The men said they had seen one of the 150 fliers Curry carried to missions and soup kitchens in the city and "wanted to see what it was like."
Although Curry put no restrictions on who she served, the men's apparent lack of neediness didn't sit well with others in line.
"Why take from the needy?" asked Kavanaugh Jones. "I don't like seeing individuals in line who don't need help." Jones, 35, said he has been unemployed for a year and a half. He said he had been an office mover with the Department of Labor and lamented, "Here I am, a GS-7, standing in line for a free meal."
By 3:30 p.m. yesterday, after four hours of passing out plates, Curry figured she had served about 500 persons. Already she was planning for coming dinners, saying she hopes "to make 30 years."
Walter Booth, a volunteer at Sunshine House, an alcohol rehabilitation center in the city, paid special tribute to Curry's feast, which he said he has shared in for several years.
"It makes people feel like Thanksgiving and that people care, especially when people don't have a home."