For more than 20 years, Yvonne Smalls has hosted an invite-only ladies’ luncheon in her Wando garden
PHOTO: Attendees queue up on Yvonne Smalls’s back lawn for a meal of fried ham and traditional potluck salads homemade by the hostess and her family.
In the spring of 1997, Yvonne Smalls invited a group of women from her church, W.O.R.D. Ministries in Summerville, for a luncheon in her garden. “Sixty-four of them showed up,” remembers Yvonne, who has lived in Wando with her husband, James, for 40 years. “Then the next year, they brought all their friends.”
And so the annual celebration of food and fellowship began. On the first Saturday of April, Yvonne—with help from James; her sisters, Lucile Fabers and Beverly Shine; and daughters, Michelle Kinloch and Yolanda Carcana—hosts women of all ages for a traditional lunch of fried ham, plus most every type of “salad” you can imagine: pasta, chicken, broccoli, and black-eyed pea. The dishes are all prepared by the hostess, though she notes, “My sisters and daughters lend a hand in the kitchen.” A little help is needed with the yard, too: “The gardening wouldn’t get done without my husband!” Yvonne says.
PHOTO: Yvonne Smalls (right) with her daughters, Yolanda Carcana (left) and Michelle Kinloch.
Though the menu has stayed the same through the years, there’s a lot more food now. In 2017, a total of 223 people were seated among the camellias and azaleas. “I sent out 380 invitations this year,” says Yvonne, who asks for a small donation from attendees to help cover costs. Many friends and family members come from afar, driving from the Carolinas and Georgia and flying in from Texas, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
When the women arrive promptly at 2 p.m., it’s a sight to behold: every guest is dressed in the hue indicated on the invitation. “But they can wear whatever hat they’d like,” Yvonne explains, noting that two members of the Charleston Hat Ladies attended last year. After a brief sermon, the ladies walk through fluted columns to the back garden, where banquet tables are dressed with bouquets and bountiful platters.
PHOTO: Nearly every detail, from the guests’ dress to the desserts, adheres to the luncheon’s chosen color scheme. In 2017, the theme was red; this year, it’s black.
After the meal, a sweet finale arrives: rich red velvet and buttery pound cakes, all homemade every year by Yvonne and her family, are presented on stands along with store-bought desserts. Thick slices are served to all, but only after photos are taken with the display. “We want to remember it,” Yvonne says. “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into this, but it’s a special day of food and fellowship, and it’s worth every minute.”