Beverly Lawyer Berry sees Thanksgiving in a new light this year.
She is more thankful than ever, and it is because of her giving.
Berry said giving has become an obsession.
"I want to stop and I just can't stop," she said.
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It is rooted in her great-grandmother, the late Mary "Mamie" Lawyer of Hilton Head Island.
As a child, Berry spent summers with her. The house on Wild Horse Road was brimming with 13 kids. She remembers the old Gullah woman saying, "Beverly, you give and give until you have nothing left to give."
Berry also remembers paying attention when Mamie made her famous pound cakes. Berry turned to those lemony cakes drizzled with icing when she wanted to raise money for her first mission trip to Jamaica.
Her outreach started simply, but she has become a shopaholic searching for bargains and filling storage units. On her first big trip, Berry took 14 duffle bags and suitcases, each filled with 50 pounds of shoes, clothes and toys. Her second trip involved almost 100 large boxes and more than 2,000 pairs of shoes.
This summer, Berry took a new direction, going to Africa with a Habitat for Humanity International team. In eight days on the ground, they built two small brick homes for widows caring for grandchildren orphaned by AIDS.
Berry said you can see poverty on television, but not feel its weight until you see it with your own eyes.
"A lot of things don't matter to me anymore," Berry said. "When I got back I called my two brothers and my sister and said, 'I want to let y'all know I love you and there's no more drama. I am drama-free.' It made me appreciate how blessed I am here."
'OFTEN ASKED WHY'
Berry is a dining room supervisor at Spring Island, a private community in Okatie that has supported all her trips.
She is a caretaker to people with special needs, opening her small home in Beaufort to the home-share program of the Coastal Empire Community Mental Health Center.
And she is a philanthropist.
So is Spring Island resident Barbara Thomas, who led the Habitat team to Malawi in southeastern Africa.
It was the 10th home-building team she has led to places including Poland, Macedonia, Armenia, Romania, Portugal and Costa Rica. She has learned drywalling and framing, but most of her 15 years with Habitat has involved skills learned from earning an MBA degree and a career in administrative management.
"I'm often asked why do that, why go there, why not just send a check," Thomas said. "The answer is that there is a lot more to it than bricks and mortar. It's relationships and community-building. It's an uplifting experience for the people there, and a learning experience for us."
Berry used her exuberant personality, which has become legendary in her 21 years of working at Spring Island, to raise $5,000 more than her trip to Africa cost. And she took five suitcases filled with clothes, shoes, soccer balls, Frisbees of all colors, jump ropes, coloring books and crayons.
When Berry saw families living in tiny homes with damp walls, no windows, dirt floors, leaky thatched roofs and no restrooms, she cried.
"But Barbara said, 'Beverly, why are you crying? The people are so happy and joyful.' Then I viewed them from their eyes."
Children made toys from things Americans would throw away.
Villagers hauled in the locally made, kiln-dried bricks to the job sites. They also lugged the mud used as mortar.
And the volunteers left homes with windows, cement floors, a tin roof and a latrine.
Berry saw a widow take half of her dress to make a pallet to sleep on. And she thought of fussing at someone who got her sheets with a 350 thread count when they should have known she likes 500-count.
She felt humbled, and in turn wants to thank all the churches, businesses and individuals who make her trips possible, led by Grays Hill Full Gospel Deliverance Church and the Rev. Norman Jenkins.
Now Berry is packing for her next trip to Jamaica on Dec. 29. And Thomas is rounding up recruits for a Women Build team to be working in Delhi during International Women's Day on March 8.
"While we worked, the Malawians laughed, sang songs and danced," Berry said. "It was a joy to work beside them. They were so full of life for having so little.
"The thought of them humbles my soul and makes me more thankful for what the Lord has given me."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.