Hundreds stood Thursday afternoon in a line that snaked its way around the Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks building and toward the Hilton Head Island restaurant’s parking lot.
But despite the long wait, there was a smile on nearly every face.
The sun was shining and a warm fall breeze carried with it the smell of roasting turkey.
It was Thanksgiving, and at the end of the line a feast was waiting.
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Hundreds were already inside participating in the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by Hudson’s and organized by members of the St. Andrew By-The-Sea United Methodist Church.
“The food is amazing,” diner Shelly Colb said, gesturing toward a nearly empty plate of stuffing. “It really feels like a pretty traditional family Thanksgiving atmosphere in here.”
That’s precisely what the event’s organizers have been shooting for since its inception in 1999.
Volunteer coordinator David Bisbee said, “The whole point behind this is to make it a community Thanksgiving dinner for anybody who might otherwise not be with family or might be alone for the holiday.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a wealthy retiree, a homeless person, or a lonely tourist — “everyone is part of the family here,” he said.
Over the years, the event — which organizers estimated drew roughly 1,500 guests and 400 volunteers Thursday — has grown to include live music, arts and crafts for kids, and fundraisers to benefit local nonprofit groups such as The Deep Well Project and Bluffton Self Help.
“It’s great that this event just keeps giving even after Thanksgiving is over,” Bisbee said of the charity aspect of the community dinner.
The Hilton Head event was just one of several community celebrations of Thanksgiving in Beaufort County.
In Beaufort, members of Parish Church of St. Helena held their 36th annual community dinner, drawing an estimated 500 diners.
“It’s a great event for the community to come together,” the Rev. Jim Cato said.
In addition to the roughly 60 turkeys served during the event, “the parishioners bring all the side dishes,” Cato said. “Everybody contributes.”
The sense of community, family, and giving extended well beyond church property Thursday.
Volunteers sent dozens of to-go meals to help feed the homeless in the Ridgeland area, Cato said.
Mark Warter, a deacon at the Parish Church of St. Helena, pointed toward the bustling dining area and said, “This is what’s all about. It’s the community and members of the congregation coming together — it’s Thanksgiving.”