By Ben Koconis - Special to the Informer
Thursday, December 03, 2009 06:41 PM
Bishop Imagene Stewart Provided Food, Fun for the District’s Poor
Bishop Imagene Stewart was in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day boiling chicken gizzards for giblet gravy, stirring industrial-sized pots of string beans and keeping a watchful eye over the turkeys.
Bishop Imagene Stewart, right, shares a laugh with several volunteers in her home in Northeast on Thanksgiving Day as she prepares to feed the homeless in her Northeast neighborhood. Stewart, who has held the annual Thanksgiving Day feeding program for 45 years, said this year may be her last. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah
The stalwart for the District’s poor hosted her 45th annual Thanksgiving dinner in Northeast to ensure that those who would not otherwise enjoy a turkey dinner feasted on a home-cooked meal with all the trimmings.
About 20 volunteers showed up at the House of Imagene, a shelter for battered women at 6th Street and Florida Avenue, early Thu., Nov. 26; to help bake turkeys, carve hams, set up tables and to ensure that the music jibed with the community members who turned out in droves to participate in the Thanksgiving Day festivities.
“We are all just regular people coming to help out,” Stewart said. “You better be nice because you don’t know when your day is coming.”
Stewart, 67, a self described “Georgia Peach” known for her warm heart and charismatic personality grew up in Dublin, Ga., but moved to the District in the 1960s. Early on she was a victim of domestic violence and understands the consequences of life on the street for women and their children. Today, she’s a staple in the District’s social services community.
Since 1972, Stewart has run the House of Imagene, Shelter and Women’s Center. Each year the soft-spoken minister hosts annual Thanksgiving and Christmas Day dinners for the District’s less fortunate. Stewart has received numerous awards for her humanitarian efforts and has been acknowledged by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Wayne Ireland, Stewart’s son, a 51- year -old builder who lives in Northeast, said that he has helped his mother to organize the Thanksgiving Day dinners for the past 15 years. Ireland said that he and his mother worked all night to prepare for this year’s celebration.
“We have been cooking for what seems like forever,” he said.
Ireland has fond memories of past Thanksgiving dinners.
“People always come with big smiles on their faces. You are always smiling when your stomach is full,” Ireland said.
Harvey Hall, a 61-year-old friend of Stewart, has shown up to volunteer for the past 12 years. This year was no exception. It’s one of his traditions.
“I love it around here. There’s good music, good food and good people,” he said.
Hall said that in the past, Stewart has served Thanksgiving dinner to more than 200, this year, due to the economic downturn; he was certain that other charities also pitched in and served dinners to the less fortunate.
The Northeast resident said folks are experiencing difficulty trying to make ends meet nowadays.
“It is hard times. The older you get the harder it is. It doesn’t matter what kind of trade you’re in.”
Hall, Stewart and other guests danced much of the morning away; they listened to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown and Chicago crooner Tyrone Davis compliments of Lucius McInnis, a local disc jockey from Maryland.
“This is my way of contributing,” said McInnis. McInnis said that he brings [Tyrone] Davis’s music every year because its Stewart’s favorite.
Volunteer Thandi Myeni, a 33-year old ophthalmologist who hails from Swaziland, Africa but who now lives in the District came out with her girlfriend to lend a hand.
“I think it is great when individuals take it upon themselves to make a difference. We have an obligation to help the less fortunate,” she said.
Although much of Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebration was positive and upbeat, Stewart expressed her concern for society’s lack of interest in social causes.
Stewart said people like herself are a dying breed. “The youth just are not interested.”
“The atmosphere has changed,” she said. “People think they have arrived -- everyone wants to go to Harvard University, but people who go to Harvard also get sick and die. Many people who thought they were doing ok are now coming over here to eat. There is no such thing as doing all right. You never know what tomorrow may bring,” Stewart said.
Donaye Fleming, a 16- year -old student who attends Suitland High School in Forestville, Md., served plates to guests during the event.
She agrees with Stewart about the indifference of youth.
“I don’t think people my age appreciate things like this. People should try it. It will change the way you think,” Donaye said.
Stewart who recently suffered a stroke said that she isn’t sure how long she can continue her annual dinner.
“This may be one of the last years,” she said.
For further information on volunteer opportunities or to make a donation to Bishop Stewart’s ministries, visit www.houseofimagene.org.