CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Tara Arras, Chief Development Officer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, serves Thanksgiving meals during an annual dinner.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Tara Arras, Chief Development Officer at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, serves Thanksgiving meals during an annual dinner.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Cardinal Donald Wuerl joined about 75 volunteers outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to distribute turkeys to those in need.

The cardinal joined volunteers from Poor Robert's Mission, a non-profit company dedicated to serving the low-income communities of Washington, in distributing more than 6,800 turkeys.

Paul McNamara, who serves on the Board of Directors of Poor Robert's Mission, said the turkeys are purchased with money donated by “the business community and generous friends” of the poor.

Poor Robert’s Mission has been distributing the turkeys for several years, but the tradition of giving away the turkeys goes back more than four decades. Then, a local restaurateur, Bobby Abbo, prepared some extra turkeys at his restaurant for local needy people.

That outreach grew into a non-profit organization called Poor Robert’s Charities. For more than 40 years, Poor Robert’s Charities provided thousands of turkeys to needy families and also provided vans to more than 100 local not-for-profit groups – including many Catholic organizations – needing to transport their clients.

Several years ago, Abbo passed away and Poor Roberts Charities was closed. Poor Roberts Mission was organized in its place. Zach Huke, a nephew of Abbo, is president of Poor Robert’s Mission.

The 6,820 turkeys were distributed Nov. 21 in about one hour, McNamara said. He said prior to distribution, it took volunteers about four hours to unload two tractor trailers full of the turkeys. “We are a well-oiled machine,” McNamara said in explaining the efficiency in which the turkeys were offloaded and distributed. He said that people donated money or organized the give away or participated in the distribution.

“People come together and work hard because there is satisfaction in helping people in need,” McNamara said. “Hopefully we are filling a little void during this holiday season.”

McNamara said that in addition to being given to individuals, turkeys were distributed to “organizations that have constituents in need.” About 90 organizations throughout the metropolitan area – including Assumption Parish Outreach and Archbishop Carroll High School – received turkeys to distribute to the needy they serve.

“There is a very, very broad constituency in need throughout the area,” McNamara said. “This is not just about giving away turkeys. This is about giving food to people who need food.”

The turkeys Poor Robert’s Mission donated to Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington were among the more than 10 tons of food collected by the high school students.

“We had a very successful drive with almost 25,000 pounds collected and over 350 turkeys,” said Richard Vitale, service and pastoral care coordinator at Archbishop Carroll High School. “We served over 300 families with two boxes of food which included a turkey dinner and additional food items to restock their pantries. In addition we supplied several local food pantries with additional items.”

The annual Archbishop Carroll High School food drive is believed to be one of the largest student-organized food collections in the country. Vitale said the collection is “such a powerful and transformative experience” that many Carroll alumni return each year to participate in the food drive.

“For the Carroll community the food drive is a central part of our faith identity as we act out our faith in being the ‘hands and feet’ of Jesus by serving those in need,” Vitale said. “For our students, they learn the value of service and its effect on our local community. In addition, they also learn how love can transform both the giver and the receiver.”

Also on Nov. 21, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington hosted its fifth annual Thanksgiving dinner for those in need. The annual sit-down dinner is held at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery in downtown Washington.

The food for the meal was prepared by Catholic Charities Enterprises, which also employs many former clients. The chefs are the same who regularly prepare the food for Catholic Charities’ St. Maria’s Meals service.

“More than 300 people were served dinner,” said Lesa Rair, Catholic Charities’ senior communications manager. “In addition, we gave away about 200 new coats and dozens of boxes of toiletries.”

Rair said the boxes of toiletries were collected and assembled by Pepco employees. The electric company’s employees also joined with other Catholic Charities volunteers to serve the Thanksgiving meal. Rair noted that gift cards were given to those who did not receive a toiletries box.

Also at this time of year, Catholic Charities sponsors an Angel Tree that provides hundreds of presents to local kids by connecting donors with a child or family in need at Christmas. All of the families on our Angel Tree are involved in Catholic Charities’ programs. For more information, visit www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/angeltree/

On Thanksgiving day, the Church of the Annunciation in Washington hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for more than 120 people. The feast was a joint effort between volunteers from Annunciation and volunteers from the Washington Hebrew Congregation and St. Albans Episcopal Church. The volunteers prepared and served the meals and visited with  guests, including senior senior citizens, the poor and homeless, and people who would have otherwise been alone for the holiday.

Msgr. Charles Antonicelli, pastor of the Church of the Annunciation who also serves as the Archdiocese of Washington’s episcopal vicar for canonical services, said that in addition to the meal, guests were provide with doggie bags to bring home leftover food to eat later.

Msgr. Antonicelli noted that the interfaith Thanksgiving dinner is an annual tradition that highlights cooperation among people of different faiths reaching out to those in need.