From left, Pauline Lanci, Georgia Walker and Marlin Wieland enjoy dinner served at Belin Church in Murrells Inlet.
The church threw open its doors and the agency came through with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, beans, sweet potatoes and enough desserts to fill a small bakery, all so that people in the community did not have to spend the day alone.
It was hard to determine who received the most – the volunteers who served the meals or packed the nearly 1,000 boxes stuffed with food for those who had to work on Christmas Day – or the people who ate.
The Belin site was one of four area locations the Red Cross establishes each year and the Murrells Inlet volunteers have things down to a science, right down to the little touches such as Tom Baldwin spinning tunes from the front of the room and the children and grandchildren of volunteers who offered kisses and smiles all around.
Baldwin was in his seventh year of making music.
“I heard something on the radio and so I volunteered,” he said.
This year was especially sweet, he said, because he had spent nearly a month in the hospital.
Shirley Prince, sitting with her friend Dorothy Williams, was marking a decade of dining at the church on Christmas Day.
“Both of us are widow ladies,” Prince said. “We enjoy the food and the fellowship.”
“I’m a good customer,” said Ray Stebbins of Surfside Beach, smiling as he made his way through the food. “My wife died 11 years ago, and I can’t cook this well.”
Originally from Vermont, Stebbins said that high taxes and a job brought him to the Grand Strand. He was one of the people who worked on the F-14 – “the best fighter ever built.”
Christine Detwiler literally grew up volunteering for the dinners at Belin.
Her dad, David Strickland, is one of the main organizers of the dinner and the man responsible for ensuring the food transported from the Greek Orthodox church in Myrtle Beach was hot, filling and ready to be dished out when the diners arrived.
He was at the church by 6 a.m., mashing potatoes, warming turkey and cooking the green beans.
His wife, Diane, joined him a bit later, ensuring the first 400 to-go boxes were on the road. Closer to home, she also ensured that no one went hungry.
“I’m full as a tick,” said Lee Keys.
“We come for food and fellowship,” he said, smiling, as he pulled his wife, Pat, closer.
Howard and Althea Lesser, sharing their table, smiled happily. “We just enjoy being here,” Howard Lesser said.
Maybe no one was more excited than Nanci Conley, executive director of the local Red Cross, who was on her way back to the inlet after visiting the other two sites that served Christmas Day dinner.
The location in Andrews serves meals on Christmas Eve.
“Each site has its own personality,” she said, looking around. She also was pleased that people filled envelopes with donations.
“We buy about 6,300 pounds of turkey, and while we rely on donations to some extent, they don’t cover everything,” she admitted, noting that two days before she bought turkeys, she discovered that the price had risen 20 cents a pound.
“That was about $16,000 we hadn’t counted on,” she said. But then she smiled.
“It’s all about fellowship. From the people who come to eat to the volunteers, we all give.”
And when the last diner had gone, some volunteers were still giving. Just as he has done for the past six years, Chuck Wricks was washing the pots and pans.
While he has a dishwasher at home, this is his way of giving.
By Anita Crone
For The Times