Community Christmas dinners: Traditions that break from the traditional

On Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort, volunteers gather to feed and socialize with the needy, lonely and displaced.

bheffernan@islandpacket.comDecember 25, 2012 

Hilton Head Island resident Michael Harrison, right, laughs with volunteers Marcie Cavanaugh, left, and John Yannett, center, after they dished up turkey Tuesday during Hilton Head Island's 10th annual Community Christmas Day Dinner at The Beach House, a Holiday Inn Resort. The free dinner benefits Meals on Wheels and Second Helpings.

SARAH WELLIVER, STAFF PHOTO

It's 12:30 p.m. on Christmas day and the volunteer kitchen workers at the 10th annual Community Christmas Day Dinner on Hilton Head Island are on the verge of a shift change.

Many began prep work in the kitchen at The Beach House, A Holiday Inn Resort, more than 26 hours earlier. One-hundred and ten turkeys have been baked and carved, and are being served along with trays of traditional fixings by other volunteers in the dining rooms.

Jay Lyons, 65, coaches Abby Pallister, 34, on how the prepared-food trays are organized in the big, metal warming ovens.

"White is on top," he says.

Pallister grabs a wide pan from the warmer.

"No, that's white turkey," laughs Lyons, who wears a Santa hat and a name tag with his work shift. It reads: "8 a.m. to ?"

Lyons and Pallister were just two of 412 residents and visitors to the island that volunteered to serve meals to 610 others who showed up Tuesday.

"I'm delightfully overwhelmed by having so many volunteers will to give up part of their Christmas day," said co-organizer Lois Willig.

The meal lasted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and benefited Meals on Wheels and Second Helpings.

A similar scene played out in Beaufort, where about 20 volunteers and 135 diners met in the parking lot of the Atlantic Inn to share Christmas day over turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing and other side dishes cooked by Sea Eagle Market.

Plant the Seed Ministry offered the free meal to the homeless, those unable to spend the holiday with family and others in need.

One woman carried two plastic bags, a shoulder bag and a box; she had just checked out of a hotel and spent the last of her money the night before, organizer Joy Kirchner said.

"We got to sit with these people and talk with them and pray with them," said Kirchner. "It was just a wonderful day."

Others unable to volunteer their time gave in other ways.

The volunteers received three trays of fresh-baked cookies from a woman who was on her way to a family Christmas meal when she saw the gathering in the parking lot and decided they needed the sweets more, Kirchner said.

They were still warm.

United Way donated toys that were handed out to children after the meal.

"I don't think Christmas will ever be the same for the people who volunteered," said Kirchner.

Indeed, the community dinners are a break from tradition in many ways.

James and Tara Bufis came to Hilton Head Island from Brick, N.J. The coastal town was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in October. Many homes "literally floated away," he said. His didn't. For that, he said, he is thankful -- and lucky.

After the storm, James, a retired fire captain, ran a generator to heat his home and run a refrigerator. They took in Tara's sister and a friend of the family who needed help.

They came south this year for a change of scenery and to relax for five days, he said.

"It's difficult not being surrounded by with family and friends, but coming here and being able to meet some many people and celebrating with them has been fantastic."

This year, "we're being thankful for what we have," he said.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_ Brian.

Related content:

Hilton Head, Beaufort volunteers serve meals, good will for Christmas, Dec. 24, 2012.

Community dinner offers taste of the season, Dec. 26, 2011.

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