Dwayne Morris can draw anything he can see. And he can draw anything he can imagine. On a recent morning, he was imagining Christmas.
“I used to do this when I was in prison,” Morris, 52, said, as he used a pen to carefully crosshatch rosebuds he’d drawn on a piece of pink construction paper. They were above a heart emblazoned with “Merry Christmas.”
Morris was at a table in the dining room at So Others Might Eat, a charity on O Street NW where breakfast and lunch is served every day to poor and homeless people. This was something different, a program called ABLE: After Breakfast Lateral Engagement.
It started last year, after the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown closed for renovations. The library had become a place where people experiencing homelessness could get out of the cold and do things like read the paper and charge their cellphones. While it had been the practice at SOME to close its dining room between meals, with MLK out of commission, ABLE was born.
The staff at SOME, led by Daryl Wright, director of food services, arranges different ABLE activities on different days between breakfast and lunch. On this morning, there was a holiday theme. People could make their own Christmas cards or inscribe store-bought ones. If there was someone they wanted to send a card to — a relative they hadn’t seen for a while — SOME would pay for the stamp.
There was gingerbread decorating, too. SOME clients worked to assemble gingerbread houses and gingerbread trains, then decorate them with icing sugar and colorful candies.
But the real attraction was the holiday food. Kitchen manager Lynnette Moore had already served scrambled eggs, oatmeal and apple sauce for breakfast — and would be making beef stroganoff and mixed vegetables for lunch — but she’d made something special for ABLE: Christmas treats from around the world.
First up was clam chowder, inspired, Wright explained, by Italy’s Feast of the Seven Fishes. Who wanted some?
Most hands shot up, including Morris’s. He lives near Howard University Hospital and relies on SOME for meals about three times a week. He’d missed breakfast this morning — he just got a job working nights cleaning District libraries — so ABLE’s holiday smorgasbord was a welcome surprise.
“You can’t beat it,” Morris said of SOME. “They treat you nice.”
Whenever anyone passed by Morris, they admired his artistic skills.
“I like craft work,” he said.
Jackie Owens, 66, was making a Christmas card, too. On the front was the very building we were in, a row of people lined up outside, and the words “Merry Christmas to SOME.”
Activities like ABLE were “refreshing for the mind,” said Owens. “This right here is very good therapy.”
Owens has an apartment, but the landlord doesn’t keep it up very well, she said. She’s going to have to move soon and is worried about being able to afford another place.
After the chowder came Irish potato casserole, then panettone from Italy, churros from Mexico and hot cocoa, with or without marshmallows.
“This food is scrumptious,” a woman announced with gusto.
Though a Christmas mood suffused the room — carols played on a stereo — the regular ABLE offerings continued. There was a stack of Express newspapers. “Enough so that everyone can do the puzzle,” Wright said with relief. “We don’t have to share.”
A half-dozen cellphones were lined up on a small table, all plugged into a spray of charging cables, like little piglets nursing from their mother. Since so many cellphones look alike, a SOME staff member gave each visitor a numbered raffle ticket, the other half of which was taped to the phone.
Tyler Benjamin, volunteer coordinator, sat at a table handing out mail that clients had delivered care of SOME. When you don’t have a home, you don’t have an address, and many people who are homeless rely on the charity to receive important documents.
For those who didn’t want to participate in any of the activities, the TV was on in the adjacent waiting room. Wright said that lately it’s been tuned to CNN. “There’s a lot going on in the news, and often our clients can’t see it,” he said. They like to keep up on current events, and ABLE lets them do that.
But this morning, it was decided to offer a Christmas movie: “Home Alone.”
The clients at SOME may not have had homes, but for a while at least, they weren’t alone.
You can help support ABLE and other vital SOME programs. To give, simply visit posthelpinghand.com and click on “Donate.” To give by mail, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.