Community dinner offers taste of the season

emoody@beaufortgazette.comDecember 26, 2011 

Patty Anderson declared the turkey and fixings simply "scrumpdillyicious" as she dug into her full plate Sunday afternoon at Aunt Chilada's Easy Street Cafe on Hilton Head Island during the ninth annual Community Christmas Day Dinner.

The Hilton Head Island resident's eyes sparkled and she clapped along as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to baby Jesus. For the second year in a row, she took part in the community event instead of trying to cook a holiday dinner just for herself. This year, she brought a neighbor to experience the festivities and food.

"I think it's wonderful, because I don't know how to cook," Anderson joked. "It's hard to cook for one person. And it's no fun."

In its ninth year, the turkey buffet dinner is free and donations were accepted to defray costs for next year's dinner, said Lois Willig, one of the organizers. Leftover food is given to Meals on Wheels and Second Helpings charities, she said.

More than 400 volunteers and donations from individuals and local businesses made the dinner possible, Willig said. The dinner does more than feed the hungry, she said -- it's a tradition many volunteers could not do without.

"Christmas is such a difficult time for so many people," Willig said. "This is as important for some of the volunteers as for the diners."

Planning began months ago and preparation started early Saturday morning, as volunteers began cooking 100 turkeys and rolling mounds of silverware into napkins.

Holden Williams, 69, of Worcester, Mass., pumped his fists excitedly as he described why he volunteered at the dinner for his sixth year and was already looking forward to volunteering next year.

"It puts the meaning of Christmas front and center, meaning faith and friendship," he said. "It wouldn't be Christmas without this. I woke up this morning and said 'Yes!' I couldn't wait to get here. I'm psyched."

People come in as strangers, share a meal and leave as friends, he said. His family visits his mother-in-law in the area every year, and Williams spends the day volunteering before meeting up for dinner. His son also joined him for a shift as a dinner volunteer.

Williams shared his secret to getting the most out of the dinner -- be an usher.

"(I'm) escorting people to the tables, introducing them to the servers, and, of course, encouraging them to eat seconds," he said with a smile.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

Related content:

Lowcountry Santa is not necessarily a fat cat, Dec. 22, 2011

More than 1,000 attend annual Christmas dinner at Holiday Inn Oceanfront, Dec. 25, 2010

Christmas dinner becomes a tradition for the diners and the servers, Dec. 25, 2009

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