DESTIN — For the 23rd year in a row, strangers became family at Harbor Docks’ annual Thanksgiving dinner to benefit Habitat for Humanity of Okaloosa County.
The event, which draws around 2,000 people to Charles Morgan’s harborside restaurant, consists of a free Thanksgiving meal served by Habitat for Humanity volunteers. In return for the free grub, diners donate money to the organization that builds homes for local families in need.
Melissa Forte, community outreach director for Habitat for Humanity, said the dinner is the group’s largest fundraiser. Last year it raised more than $23,000 for both her organization and Destin Harvest, and they hoped to raise even more this year.
“It’s an incredible feeling to see everyone out here,” Forte said. “We’re so blessed because the weather today is awesome.”
This year the group is launching a new campaign called “Pave the Way Home for Families in Okaloosa County,” an initiative to raise $300,000 to develop new infrastructure that will allow them to build even more homes.
Shawna Holman, a single mother of three kids under the age of 4 who is going to receive a new Habitat home later this year, said she “had never seen anything like” the Thanksgiving dinner event at Harbor Docks.
“I think it’s really nice that they do something fun like this,” she said. “Habitat is a great opportunity. It’s helping me get out to see different things, and I’m loving it. I’m excited for the home they’re going to build my family, for my kids to have their own space and their own yard.”
People had already begun waiting in a line that snaked out into the parking lot by 11:30 a.m. Morgan was at the door to greet people and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
“This is a great day,” Morgan said. “It’s a day where people from all walks of life can come together and be happy and peaceful and friendly and enjoy food together.”
Volunteers served a traditional Thanksgiving feast, including turkey, stuffing, rolls, macaroni and cheese, vegetables and pie.
Families came from all over the Panhandle to enjoy the free feast and give back to charity, including the Baldwin family from Navarre. Tiger Baldwin said it was his family’s third year in a row to come to Harbor Docks.
“It’s great because we don’t have to cook or clean up, and we get to spend time with family,” he said.
His wife, Natalie, agreed.
“I like the view and that I don’t have to cook,” she said. “Instead of worrying about all the stress of cooking, we can just spend time with each other.”