“Is Santa Claus here?” a little boy asked on Saturday morning as he waited for volunteers at Tricounty Family Ministries to assemble his holiday plate of turkey, ham and trimmings.
Much to the boy’s obvious disappointment, Santa wasn’t in the dining hall at the moment. Perhaps he was out back under a tent stocked with bikes and winter coats for clients, or helping to distribute pantry items and toiletries. Knowing Santa, he was probably in the toy room, overseeing the gift giveaway.
He surely would have approved of the meal going on without him. For the 29th year in a row, the nonprofit fed a Christmas meal to hundreds and hundreds of community residents.
The $20,000 party is underwritten by Feed the Need, a longstanding coalition of food-and-beverage professionals fighting hunger in the Charleston area. Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ substantially discounts its catering fees for the annual event, providing an array of festive sides and sweets in addition to the turkey and ham.
“I get a lot of credit for things that other people make happen,” Feed the Need founder Mickey Bakst of Charleston Grill said. “This takes a lot of hard work.”
Dozens of volunteers from Feed the Need and other service groups joined Tricounty Family Ministries employees to serve, clean and coordinate. In the past, the event has drawn more than 2,000 people, but Bakst speculated the total number was down slightly this year because the program was rescheduled in deference to school calendars.
Still, many people started lining up for the free party hours before the doors opened. Within Cherokee Place United Methodist Church, where Tricounty Family Ministries rents space, they were joined by a deejay spinning Christmas music and Mayor John Tecklenburg.
“We feel we’re a part of this,” Bakst said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 13 percent of Charleston County residents live in poverty. Studies have shown that poverty in the county disproportionately affects black residents, with 42 percent of black children here living below the poverty line, compared to 11 percent of white children.