DESTIN — For 24 years Harbor Docks restaurant has offered free Thanksgiving meals while accepting donations for Habitat for Humanity in Okaloosa County and Destin Harvest.
Manager Eddie Morgan said the reason behind it is simple.
“We’re open 363 days a year here, and most of those days we make money,” Eddie Morgan said. “For us to give away stuff one day a year, it’s the right thing to do.”
Habitat for Humanity volunteers man the restaurant and serve traditional Thanksgiving meals featuring staples such as turkey and pumpkin pie.
The 2017 event served more than 1,700 people and raised more than $24,000, Eddie Morgan said. This year’s event was on par to do the same, having served 1,000 people and received several donations halfway through the event, he said.
Kathie Alderman, director of development and community outreach at Habitat for Humanity, said there were people lined up even before the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. They come for different reasons.
“There are definitely people who are here because they have need,” Alderman said. “Then, there are people who are here because they’ve been displaced from Panama City and they’re in condos here. We’ve had a lot of that this year. There are families that this is their tradition. Some of them serve and eat here.”
This was Alderman’s first year to coordinate the event. She previously worked at a different Habitat for Humanity.
“I don’t know of any other Habitat that does something for Thanksgiving,” Alderman said. “There might be others, but I don’t know of them. It’s wonderful. It’s a way for us to give back to the community.”
The organization doesn’t struggle to find volunteers, she said.
“Our volunteers are so eager to do something for the community,” Alderman said. “They just jump on it.”
Debbie Boswell of Destin took a break from cooking this year to eat at Harbor Docks.
“We usually get together and have a big Thanksgiving dinner,” Boswell said. “My children live here — some of them — but my son wanted to come here. So no cooking today, which is really unusual because we usually do the full spread. It’s different.”
While dining out isn’t traditional, it pleased Boswell to learn where the donations went.
“My son said it was for the needy, so we just came,” she said. “Then we saw it was for Habitat, which is great. I love it. We’ve donated to Habitat for Humanity a lot through the years.”
Harbor Docks added a second component to the event this year. After people ate inside the restaurant, they could stop by a food truck outside and pick up a paper-bag meal to take home for later.
Volunteer Charlene Robertson helped put together and hand out the to-go meals. Each came with a sandwich, chips, dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce.
“One lady said this is the cherry on top, to be able to eat and then be able to take something with you,” Robertson said. “We’ve had a lot of people, as they leave, pick up bags for the evening — especially those with little kids. Then there’s a couple of people who just looked like they needed an extra meal. There was a gentleman who came up, he was a medic. He said, ‘I’ve got a homeless man who needs to eat,’ and I told him to take two meals."
Chatham Morgan, Eddie Morgan’s brother and the owner of The Local Market and La Paz in Destin, was happy about this year’s addition of the second meal for people in need.
“We love feeding people,” he said. “And food brings people together. It’s nice for the people who don’t want to cook, but for the food insecure people, it’s really nice giving them one day where they don’t have to worry about food at all.”