FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Dec. 16, 2013) -- Schedules fill up fast during the fleeting hours and days of the holiday season, but all calendars were cleared Dec. 6, by 11 members of the Military District of Washington retention team, who volunteered to prepare dinner at the Eleanor U. Kennedy shelter here.

An evening meal of spaghetti, salad and pumpkin pie was whipped together and the halls of the 50-bed shelter's dining room were decorated by career counselors from Fort Belvoir, Fort Meade, Md., and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.

The meal and decoration preparation was organized by Military District of Washington career counselor Sgt. 1st Class Samira Abdullah.

"Volunteering is actually a passion of mine," said Abdullah, a Fort Belvoir-based retention counselor. "I think it is a way to reflect on others, and giving back especially during the holiday season. I think that giving some time to help your community is an ultimate, grateful act."

The Kennedy shelter is part of New Hope Housing, which oversees a string of facilities throughout northern Virginia to assist homeless men, women and children. Groups like the retention team volunteer throughout the month to prepare suppers and dinners.

"This is a tremendous help," said New Hope Housing's Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator Chris Bramante. "As you can imagine, if you're preparing [meals] for 50 to 100 people, it is a tremendous expense. But when a group comes in and prepares a hot meal, it is fantastic."

Taking time away from their retention assignments were Master Sgt. James Meyers and 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) career counselors Sgt. First Class Patrick Burnish and Staff Sgt. Christopher McCuiston. While Meyers assembled the pasta sauce, the Burnish-McCuiston combo chopped vegetables and finished the salad preparations. The three said they felt privileged to lend a hand during the afternoon cooking.

"It is a great thing to give out to others who need assistance, so this is a great opportunity to lend a helping hand wherever we can," said Burnish. "It is a humbling experience to be able to help others. Lending a helping hand is a great thing to do."

Other retention Soldiers lending their culinary and holiday decorating talents were Master Sgt. Matthew Middleton, Master Sgt. DeCarlo Johnson, Master Sgt. Leslie Thurmond and Master Sgt. Allan Mason, Staff Sgt. Shaun Holman and Sgt. 1st Class Jose Cubillos and Sgt. 1st Class Christina Dauria-Cox.