Stopping off on his sailing trip from New Jersey to the Bahamas, Fred Beechler had his Thanksgiving dinner in a familiar place this year: the Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort.
Beechler and three other boaters at his table dropped anchor in Beaufort this week to attend the church's 34th annual Thanksgiving dinner. Beechler's fellow boaters were newcomers to the event, but Thursday's dinner marked the fourth year he had attended the church's feast.
"I keep coming back, don't I?" he joked. "It's great. I can't say enough nice things about it. The people are great and the food is great."
More than 100 volunteers served food to hungry attendees, cleaned tables and talked to guests Thursday at the church's Parish Hall on Newcastle Street. Church nursery director Roz Dixon, who coordinates the food preparation and volunteers for the event, said about 800 people were fed at the dinner and about 125 more given take-home meals.
"We get calls all the time asking us if we still do take-home meals," she said. "They remember us because back in 2008, we handed out over 1,700 take-home meals. We called all the social service groups in the area that year. It was neat, but I was a little crazy back then.
"We like them to come here more, to eat and meet people."
Monroe, N.C., resident James Kerr, in his fifth year helping out at the church, was one of a handful of volunteers from outside Beaufort. Kerr said his family, which typically spends Thanksgiving on Fripp Island, began volunteering to set a good example for his son, McCain.
"We wanted McCain to see what Thanksgiving really means, not just watching football or playing golf," he said. "It truly is a blessing, and we will absolutely continue doing it."
Dixon said the dinner attracts a variety of people from different walks of life: boaters passing through, vacationers on Fripp Island, and residents from across the Beaufort area -- from the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood to Grays Hill.
Beaufort resident Ines Figueroa attended her third Thanksgiving dinner at the church Thursday, learning of the event through a neighbor who attends the church and helps prepare the food. Since her first meal there, Figueroa said she has tried to spread the word about the meal, bringing friends to the church and delivering dinners to people who are unable to make it out.
"I love it," she said. "The food tastes so good. It really is a blessing."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.
Volunteers fill stomachs and hearts on Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, 2012