November 2013

Hilton Head Island Community Thanksgiving Dinner: Gratefully celebrating 15 years

Author: Kitty Bartell

Thanksgiving, the holiday, is a day when America gathers around tables laden with sumptuous feasts from turkey and dressing to buttery mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, surrounded by family and friends. Thanksgiving is also a feeling—a peaceful place of gratitude in one’s soul that is truly the spirit of the day. The community of Hilton Head Island has a reason to give thanks and get into the spirit.

The Hilton Head Island Community Thanksgiving Dinner is celebrating its 15th anniversary and will be commemorating the milestone by putting out a most gracious welcome mat for anyone looking for a place to share the holiday and enjoy a delicious meal.

In December of 1998 Brian Carmines, owner of Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks and Betsy Doughtie, executive director of The Deep Well Project, formulated the idea for a community dinner, arising from a spirit of empathy and a need recognized. That year, The Island Packet published an article just after Thanksgiving about lonely locals having nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. Striking a chord in the hearts of Carmines, Doughtie, and Gloria and Allan LaCoe, members of St. Andrew by- the-Sea United Methodist Church, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner was born. The event is now the definition of a well-oiled machine, fueled by a whole lot of heart and plenty of gravy.

“It’s a free dinner in a true partnership with Hudson’s and St. Andrew by- the-Sea,” Gloria LaCoe said. The LaCoes are celebrating their own 15th anniversary as co-chairs of the dinner. “We get people from all walks of life,” she continued, “people who can’t afford it and people who just need to be with other people at this time of year.” This year, in addition to a great meal, the bands Lowcountry Boil and Trillium will perform, a face painter will be on hand, and Santa is scheduled to make an appearance.

The cooking begins early by the staff of Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks where the celebration has been held each year. “Without Hudson’s this couldn’t happen,” LaCoe said. The menu is tantalizing: green beans almandine, sweet potato soufflé with marshmallow and candied pecans, whipped potatoes with drippings, stuffing, cranberry conserve, cider roasted ham, citrus-brined turkey with garlic glaze and gravy, and assorted holiday pies.

While the dinner is free, The Deep Well Project is the benefactor of donations made during the event. Last year, $8,500 was raised to bring assistance to islanders in need, providing food, clothing and other essential goods and services.

With up to 400 volunteers contributing to the success of the event, the welcome mat stretches far and wide. Last year, one of the volunteers surveyed folks as they waited in line to be seated to find out where they were from; 35 states and 11 countries were represented. It seems a spirit of thankfulness is certainly something to celebrate. 

For more information, please visit or call (843) 505-1370.

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