Pandemic prompts tweaks to how a Virginia nonprofit fulfills its mission

Jay Herriott, founder of The 25th Project, speaks with WTOP's Liz Anderson (Liz Anderson)

The 25th Project, like other area nonprofits, is not abandoning its mission due to the coronavirus pandemic; instead, it’s adapting in order to fulfill it.

“We’re still serving … we’ve got our mission and that’s to help the homeless close to home,” Jay Herriott, founder of The 25th Project, told WTOP.

“We’re looking to feed about a thousand people on Thanksgiving Day.”

That’s in addition to the propane drive they’ll hold on the 25th. They have a special event to help the homeless on the 25th of each month.

This mission, and the organization’s name, stems from two different years: 2002 when Herriott and his daughters gave out meals to folks who lived under some of D.C.’s bridges; and  2010, when Thanksgiving was on Nov. 25 and aligned with the unmoving date of Christmas one month later.

“We’re doing a propane drive on the 25th,” Herriott said.

On Nov. 26, they’ll have a crew in place at Burke Community Church to prep the meals for distribution.

Herriott said they will follow and enforce Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent spread of COVID-19, and are revamping how they run their operation — including a restriction on the number of people who can work in the kitchen and the age of volunteers.

In the past, the meal prep, plating and distribution to delivery teams was a bustling affair, with folks of all ages involved in the process.

“Typically, we have children that are taking the food plates and running them over to the distribution, but the plates can’t be handled by more than, like, two people. So … we’ve got to change our structure as far as what we do on Thanksgiving,” Herriott said.

This year, all volunteers must be 12 years of age or older.

Herriott also said there’s a standard operating procedure for all volunteers.

“They’ll have a temperature check [each] day, wearing gloves [and] having a mask on. And they have to sign up prior to on our SignUpGenius to make sure that they know all the protocols.”

If, for example, a volunteer’s temperature is too high, they’ll already be aware that they’ll have to be turned away.

“That, to my soul, bothers me to turn someone away from serving. But we have to operate within the CDC regulations and what’s best for everybody that’s helping, what’s best for Burke Community Church, and what’s best for The 25th Project.”

In order to meet this year’s goal of 1,000 meals, Herriott said they still need “people to deliver —and food.”

They’re looking for the types of food donations they usually receive each year like “the turkeys, the hams, the mashed potatoes,” and are looking for volunteer teams to deliver food to three shelters. The main difference is, this year, they won’t serve the residents.

Email coordinator@t25p.org with any questions about the organization’s Thanksgiving meals. They’ll also have a similar meal giveaway on Christmas Day.

Here’s The 25th Project’s volunteer sign up sheet to cook, prepare and distribute Thanksgiving meals this year.

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