© Astrid Riecken/for The Washington PostVolunteers and staffers of Paul Winestock's Save Our Next Generation group deliver freshly cooked Thanksgiving meals in D.C. on Sunday.
On Sunday, Paul Winestock, 55, scooped spoonfuls of mashed potatoes into plastic to-go boxes, drizzled gravy onto slices of turkey and shoveled in a helping of green beans.
He ran outside to help half-a-dozen volunteers distribute masks near his Rhode Island Avenue restaurant, His and Hers, and directed more to hand out masks outside a Family Dollar store across the street. Then, adding another item to a growing to-do list, Winestock dashed down the street, to his event space called Fun It Up, to check on a group of women learning how to apply eyelash extensions.
"I had a vision when I came out, this is what I wanted to do," said Winestock, a D.C. native who has spent the last seven years since leaving prison rebuilding his home in Ward 5.
He was arrested and indicted as the head of a loose-knit drug organization in 1990 and sentenced to two life terms, without the possibility of parole, in 1993.
More than two decades later, with a change in federal sentencing rules and good behavior, Winestock was released in 2013 to "be part of the solution, not the problem," he said.
On Sunday morning, Winestock oversaw the visions he dreamed up in prison - a Thanksgiving meal giveaway that will feed nearly 3,000 Washingtonians by Thursday and a cosmetology class for budding entrepreneurs. He also distributed free masks to a community disproportionately ravaged by the coronavirus. © Astrid Riecken/for The Washington PostPaul Winestock, fourth from left, helps pack meals inside his restaurant in Washington.
Many of the volunteers who packed food and prepared it for delivery were Winestock's employees. After his release from prison, Winestock got a business license and started an industrial cleaning company. He created a nonprofit organization, Saving Our Next Generation, to connect youth, people reentering society from prison and members of the LGBTQ community with mentoring and job training.
Rodney Elmore, 57, helped fill a minivan with boxes of Thanksgiving meals. He was released from prison three months ago - he served 20 years for armed burglary - then met Winestock.
"I didn't think the door would open up, but it did," Elmore said. "I'm doing something for the community. I like that."
Arnetta Jackson, 50, works for the Clean Team, Winestock's cleaning service that contracts with various District government agencies. She's cleaning the same streets on which she once used PCP and heroin. She hasn't touched drugs in 19 years, she said. [Coronavirus could push 250,000 into hunger in D.C. region, report says]
"It feels so good to give back," Jackson said while encouraging people passing through the neighborhood to take a mask. "You never know who you might be saving. Just because you say, 'hello' or 'I love you,' you never know who you might save."
More than a dozen volunteers worked outside Winestock's brick, Tiffany blue-colored restaurant. It's not open officially, according to a sign in the window, but for now is the place where thousands of Thanksgiving meals are being prepared for delivery throughout the city. Soon, Winestock hopes to host bartending classes inside the restaurant and offer the space to aspiring restaurateurs to test their ideas.
Inside, 56-year-old chef Shawn Lightfoot packed the food he'd spent the last several hours cooking. He's been in the kitchen since Thursday - baking dressing and stirring pots of gravy - and likely will not leave until it's time to spend Thanksgiving with his own family.
"It's going to take a village," he said about ensuring all the meals go out this week. He's already planning the Christmas Day breakfasts he'll help distribute in about a month - last year it was hot cakes, sausage links, hard-boiled eggs and hot apple cider, he said. © Astrid Riecken/for The Washington PostVolunteers package freshly cooked meals.
By early afternoon, 250 meals were ready to go. Volunteers used their own cars to transport the meals - along with water, cups of cranberry sauce and plastic cutlery. Winestock oversaw the operation, directing volunteers to a minivan or a sedan, and making sure everyone had a ride.
The group's first stop was the Langston Additions public housing complex in Northeast Washington. "Family, come on out!" Winestock shouted at the brick houses.
D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) arrived to lend a hand. [Racial, ethnic minorities reel from higher covid-19 death rates]
"He's a businessman who has a heart and always shows up for people in need," McDuffie said of Winestock, adding that the challenges of the community - violence, poverty, hunger - have been amplified in the midst of the pandemic and approaching holiday season. "He's always wanted to give back."
Jabesso Yadeto, 22, and Deja Williams, 20, were in the area when Winestock and the volunteers arrived to pass out meals.
"It's something we need," Yadeto said. He lost his job due to the pandemic.
"We just had a baby .?.?. we're on food stamps," said Williams, who works with people who have intellectual disabilities. "It's very helpful."
Winestock planned to deliver 60 meals to the Langston Additions community, then move on to other neighborhoods, including Carver Terrace, Ivy City and Trinidad and the area surrounding North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue NW.
A woman in a colorful dress leaned out of her Langston Additions home and cried out, "Thank you so very much!" © Astrid Riecken/for The Washington PostWinestock poses for a portrait.