La-Tina West checked on the giant pots of sweet potatoes burbling away on her stove as Kevin Barbera scooped three mounds of butter onto a large tray of green beans next to a turkey on the counter.
This was just a sliver of the Thanksgiving bounty they had planned. There would be 10 turkeys and seven hams from West, 10 roast chickens from her friend, and nearly 100 other dishes of meat, potatoes, pies and sides from volunteers Barbera organized on social media.
The feast was delivered to a shelter in Northwest Washington so that hundreds of homeless men and women could have a hot Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s remarkable,” Barbera said outside the shelter, where a steady stream of volunteers poured through Thursday morning with donations of water, coats and food. “You’d never expect that many people to be so caring and loving.”
Barbera and West rounded up about 100 volunteers to help serve meals or donate food for the nearly 1,000 who live at the shelter run
by the Community for Creative Non-Violence.
The Thanksgiving meal was planned by the federal government co-workers, who combined their charitable efforts after discovering during an impromptu chat in their office break room that they each separately planned to spend the holiday feeding those in need.
“Just that one conversation sparked up this event to blow up even bigger than I can imagine,” West said.
Barbera had simply posted a message on social media asking people whether they were interested in helping him feed the hungry that day. What started a few weeks ago with Barbera’s vision to have about 50 volunteers prepare and serve enough for 100 people in Franklin Square Park, in downtown Washington, exploded.
“It just kind of took off,” said Barbera, who coordinated dozens and dozens of strangers from throughout the Washington region to cook and drop off food.
Joining the group that West and Barbera had recruited to help at the shelter were volunteers from individual families, high school groups and churches and other nonprofits.
Fida Reuter came by with enough plates and utensils for 1,000 after seeing Barbera’s post looking for help on Facebook by happenstance.
“It’s a good feeling to give,” Reuter said. “A lot of people really want to help.”
After going through the maze of food that filled a huge basement of the shelter, Deby Spicuzza, 36, left carefully balancing a plate of steaming food in one hand while carrying a lunch bag and soda with the other. Spicuzza has been waiting for her disability payments to start and has been living at the shelter for three weeks.
“The people who donate to these shelters have been extraordinarily generous,” Spicuzza said. “They provide without a second thought.”
West and Barbera said they’ve always felt the need to share their good fortune with others who might not be so lucky.
West, 44, who is starting a nonprofit called the King of Ace Foundation, said she spends every other Sunday making sandwiches and driving to distribute them, with chips and water, to people on the street. Growing up, she’d always see her mother feeding strangers. These days, West pays for people’s groceries if she notices they’re short and encourages her children to give up one of their toys from Christmas to donate to another child.
“It is about helping, because we don’t know what a person is going through,” West said. “That one little gesture can change a person’s day.”
Barbera, 30, who is starting a nonprofit called the Barbera Foundation, said that in college he would pick up a few extra sandwiches while buying his lunch and give them to homeless people he'd pass on the sidewalk.
He has made bag lunches with friends to hand out during the holidays and recently served Halloween meals to families at a shelter in Reston.
“The main idea with the foundation is to inspire people to get out to volunteer,” said Barbera, who is also a personal trainer and real estate agent.
The Thanksgiving feast enjoyed Thursday was the most people West and Barbera have ever fed, and the culmination of weeks of planning.
West, who is also a caterer, went to restaurants throughout the region, asking them to donate meat, rolls, vegetables and other foods.
Barbera organized a food and supply drive, where earlier this month volunteers in Virginia collected blankets, canned food, toiletries, socks and other items for care packages donated to the shelter.
Rico Harris and Bernard Williams, both with the Community for Creative Non-Violence, said the nonprofit operates on donations, so the efforts of Barbera, West and other volunteers save the organization money and doubled the amount of food that D.C. Central Kitchen provided the shelter for Thanksgiving.
“Look at all the smiles,” Williams said, surrounded by lines of volunteers and sitting before a towering cart full of cakes and pies.
Aaron Spann walked out of the shelter with his meal as West and her family had just finished unloading food from their car. Spann, 60, smiled and thanked the group for their contribution.
“It’s nice,” Spann said, holding up his plate full of ham, greens and stuffing. “That’s what you call a blessing.”