Community dinners means no one has to be alone on Thanksgiving

Hungry Beaufort County residents will have three options for a free meal and fellowship at Thanksgiving dinners in the city of Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island. For the 31st consecutive year, the Parish Church of St. Helena at 507 Newcastle St. in Beaufort will host its annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner and church service. The service starts at 11 a.m., and the dinner follows from noon to 2 p.m. in the Parish Hall.

Area elderly, infirm or those unable to leave their homes can have a meal delivered from 10 a.m. to noon, said Rosalind Dixon, one of the dinner's organizers.

Beaufort's Tabernacle Baptist Church at 911 Craven St. will celebrate the holiday with services beginning at 10 a.m., and its annual Thanksgiving dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.

Across the Broad River, volunteers will serve a family-style Thanksgiving dinner to Hilton Head-area residents at Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks for the 11th consecutive year.

Hudson's meal, organized by St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church, will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day at the restaurant off Squire Pope Road. Any donations on the day of the event will go to The Deep Well Project, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization that offers social services to the working poor, disabled and sick on Hilton Head.

All three dinners are free and open to the public, and any leftovers will be donated to Second Helpings, a regional nonprofit food distribution project.

Dixon said Parish Church's tradition has been kept alive by the community and generous diehard volunteers.

"We're still here," she said. "Anyone who wants to come and eat can come, and anyone who wants to come and serve can serve. It's an open door."

Guests at last year's Hudson's dinner gobbled 75 turkeys and donated about $8,000 to Deep Well, said Gloria LaCoe, one of the meal's organizers and cofounders. The meal is prepared by Hudson's restaurant staff and served by volunteers, she said.

Although there hasn't been a large change in recent years in the number of Hudson's attendees, LaCoe said there has been an increase in the number of people who have lost jobs.

"It's always been a mixture of people, but we are seeing an increase in people who are out of work," she said. "But it's not just for people who can't afford to make dinner. Some people are lonely locals who have no family in town, some are tourists, and there are others who cannot afford to cook for themselves."

LaCoe said she expects 1,400 to 1,600 to attend this year's celebration.

Dixon said volunteers expect to serve 500 to 750 Beaufort area-residents.

"The economy is forcing everyone to really think about what's important," Dixon said. "We want the dinner to be a statement of our faith. We need to serve each other and stick together. No one needs to be alone, especially at the holidays."

This year, Hudson's chefs will begin baking 82 turkeys two days before the event, and organizers will order 400 pies, including apple, pecan and pumpkin, said Andrew Carmines, the restaurant's general manager. Carmines said the wait staff and chefs, all volunteers, use fresh ingredients in every recipe.

"They all take a lot of pride in helping out," he said, "and just because it's free, doesn't mean it has to be boring."

At Parish Church, volunteers will begin preparing homemade side dishes and about 40 turkeys on Tuesday. Community members make and donate desserts, which range from coconut cake to staples like pumpkin pie, she said.

Hilton Head's first family-style dinner was held after an article on islanders who had no place to go for the holiday ran in The Island Packet, LaCoe said. It has grown every year since about 500 free meals were served in 1999, she said.

So far, about 150 volunteers have committed to serving this year's meal. LaCoe said she expects another 150 to pitch in. Some will act as hosts and chat with guests, while others will offer face painting for children. The church also offers transportation for those who need it, she said.

"Sometimes we get such a good response we have more volunteers than we need," she said, "but we'll find something for them to do, even if it's just chatting with diners and making them feel at home."