By Mimi Wood, Senior Staff Writer for Island Eye News
With all due respect to the Stella Maris Women’s Club, The Bette Griffith Food Fest is a misnomer. Sure, you can purchase the club’s todie-for Okra Soup, reportedly the finest in the Lowcountry, along with delicious homemade casseroles, cakes and pies. But it’s the Silent Auction that’s been the islands’ best kept secret, until now. If you missed it this year, held Nov. 19 , do not despair; just be sure to mark your calendar for Nov. 18, 2018. As tradition holds, the annual Fest occurs in November, the weekend just before Thanksgiving. “Oh, at least 15 years,” approximates Sandra Tawes, as to how long the Fest has been held. “The Women’s Club started selling homemade cakes and pies as a fundraiser,” netting approximately $1000 annually, in the early days. Along came Bette Griffith, leaving the Cathedral downtown to join Stella Maris, as she and her husband, Joe, moved to the Isle of Palms in 1999. “Bette mentioned they sold okra soup at the Cathedral’s annual fundraiser, and we decided to give it a try,” Tawes recalls.
Quarts of the soup, individually made, sold out immediately, more and more each year. In 2005, the year after Griffith passed, the Women’s Club began gathering as a group to make the soup, “using an old Charleston recipe.” That was also the year the Fest was given its official name, in honor of Griffith,“a saint,” according to Tawes, and everyone else who knew her. “It’s gone unbelievable,” drawls Tawes, in her delightfully thick, Gullah-Geechee accent, “people love soup!”. Cathy Curtis, co-chair of the event and coordinator of the soup making, concurs.
“We made over 225 quarts this year, after selling out 140 quarts before the 11:30 Mass last year!” As enticing as the savory soup is, the Silent Auction may be the real draw. “The auction is first class,” purrs Tawes, as she commends co-chair Patricia Fournier for taking it to a new level. Fournier and her committee work diligently from May until February, enlarging and improving it every year. As of last year, the Bette Griffith Food Fest has its own Facebook page, where you can scope out the auction items; everything from original paintings from locally renowned artists such as Chris Rutigliano, to autographed copies of locallythemed children’s books by best-selling authors like Julie McLaughlin and Catherine Farley, to a crab net hand-knit by the congregation’s pastor, Msgr. Lawrence McInerny. Not to mention gift certificates galore. “I’m in awe of the generosity and talent of our contributors, starting at the top with Bette,” Fournier, in her fourth year as Auction Chair, exclaims, “that’s what keeps me motivated, and coming back. The people, and their stories.” Proceeds this year are expected to approach $10,000.
Funds raised help a myriad of organizations, from as close by as the Stella Seniors and the church’s Youth Group, to as far away as Food for the Poor, an organization that serves the destitute in the Caribbean. And of course a portion goes to the Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC, in loving memory of the inspirational woman for whom the Fest is named.