• Laurel Contributor

Helping H.A.N.D.S. Christmas Dinner

by Marlene Osteen

Finding a place at the HANDS Christmas Dinner is an unforgettable entry into a cherished and loving Highlands tradition.

Since moving to Highlands five years ago, I often heard about the charitable Christmas Dinner at Highlands Country Club. In the store where I worked, folks talked about the dinner with the fervor and excitement normally reserved for high-end, tony restaurants.

I learned that the dinner, sponsored by HANDS (Highlands Area Non Profit Donation Sharing), was launched in 2001 by the city’s lodging and hotel industry to feed out-of-towners on a day when all the restaurants were closed. And I knew, too, that what started as dinner for 56 now fed more than 450 and raised over $21,000 to support multiple city non-profits - from the Library to the Fire Department and the Food Pantry.

Still, I was not motivated to attend. Ours was an at-home Christmas tradition populated by presents and people – always too much of both. Hours of unwrapping gifts with our kids and later grandchildren and a feast for dozens – family, friends, acquaintances and co-workers without family. But then last year, and for the first time, our children announced they were all traveling or working on Christmas.

And I suspected (and was sadly proved right) that it would be the last Christmas I would spend with my husband. I looked ahead to the 25th with far less anticipation than usual. And then, Jack Austin called and invited us to the HANDS dinner. Jack’s husband, Lec, was, for the first time in several years, not working the event and suggested that we join them.

The moment we walked in, our moods changed – almost by magic. Inside, the room was warm and cozy and filled with the sounds of laughter and the aromas of delicious food. We were happy! Holiday music filled the room and decorations adorned the tables and walls.

We encountered a buffet table laid out with glorious dishes – turkeys, hams and tenderloins; shrimp and grits; and squash casserole and scalloped potatoes. An undeniable air of festivity was about and the bustling room nurtured a conspiratorial feeling – energy, glee and spirited conversation in perfect balance.

We chatted with Organizer Laura Huerta, who became involved with the event through Marty Rosenfield, Donna Wood and Helene and Ricky Siegel 14 years ago, taking it over in 2014.

Her team from the restaurant she owns, Lakeside, had started very early that morning preparing the delicious side dishes. Along with long time contributor Martha Porter, they baked the delectable and decadent desserts.

For Laura and her husband Chris, who also assists, the HANDS dinner represents a unique Food and Beverage situation.

“Everyone’s happy and nothing ever goes wrong,” they laugh.

“Chef of the Proteins,” Marty Rosenfield, stopped by. Although he started cooking that morning at 4:00 A.M., he was still full of verve and vigor, boasting about the 25 volunteers who spent their Christmas Day making it so joyous for so many others. We glanced around the packed room, and observed large groups coming together. Marty explained that the dinner had become a tradition for many families, some coming early on as teenagers and now joined by their own children. And, looking back, I realize now that on that day, we, too, became part of a family; of the extended family of the real live community of Highlands.

Cost of the dinner is $50 for adults, and $15 for children under 12.

For more information and to make reservations, contact Laura Huerta at (828) 526-9419. Dinner is served from 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., and by reservation only.

The Laurel Magazine

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