Find out how the event got started and how to volunteer
Owners Omar and Julia Colon welcome Folly Beach residents, regulars, and tourists to the all-hours market for a free meal on Thanksgiving day.
If you zig off Folly’s main drag over to Bert’s Market on the fourth Thursday of November around lunchtime, the scene might look a bit like a neighborhood cookout. People of all walks will be holding plates of warm food, chatting in small bunches about everything from politics to the surf. While this vignette may veer from the traditional tableau of turkey talk around a laden dining table, the essentials are all there: fellowship, hospitality, refreshment. And for the owners and employees of Bert’s Market, the eclectic gathering is exactly what Thanksgiving should be. “The Folly Beach community gives so much to us, so we’re grateful to be able to do this for them. Plus, we’re selfish—we like to be around these people,” says Omar Colon, who, along with his wife, Julia, has hosted a free Thanksgiving spread at their all-hours grocery and deli for the past five years.
Since 2018, this Edge of America institution has welcomed anyone in need of a Thanksgiving meal. Artist Caroline Hatchell first conjured the idea for a community holiday party while working at Bert’s. “As a mom who always cooked for my now-grown kids, I understand the financial burden of a holiday. Not everyone has the money to put together a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.” She also points out that hourly workers don’t earn income when businesses close for the Thanksgiving weekend. So Hatchell and the Colons set out to remove the cost of the holiday tradition from their guests’ plates, loading them up instead with roasted turkey, mac and cheese, collards, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie.
With up to 20 volunteers serving around 100 diners, the Bert’s Market community Thanksgiving draws a cornucopia of people, including those who are houseless, separated from family, down on their luck, looking for companionship, or just seeking to be a part of something. You’ll also spot the store’s regular customers, tourists visiting the island, and well-known locals, as well as Omar, Julia, and their five children, ages four to 14.
(Left) The Bert’s Market crew; (Right) On Thanksgiving day, Bert’s Market serves about 100 diners a free meal prepared by Hamby Catering.
In the beginning, the Bert’s crew cooked and served every meal, but since 2021, the market has purchased dinners from Hamby Catering, a system that allows the event to double its reach. “Hamby’s has a program where, for every meal that we buy, they donate another to a family through the Lowcountry Food Bank,” explains Omar. Volunteers also collect nonperishable food items for the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project and pass along any monetary donations they receive to the Folly Angels, a nonprofit that supports local families facing hardship. Last year, Bert’s gave away all of its meals within the first hour, so the team plans to up its order in 2023. A longtime supporter of the local music scene, Omar says he also might bring live music to the party.
“Bert’s is one of those places that still gives away free coffee because they want everyone to feel welcome and treated equally regardless of socioeconomic status,” says Hatchell. And at the Bert’s Market Thanksgiving celebration, every person is offered a seat at the table.
Interested in volunteering?
Reach out to Bert’s Market by e-mailing email@example.com.
In addition to Bert’s Market, Family Restaurant in Summerville (120 E. 5th N. St.) serves free meals for Thanksgiving.