It’s Thursday, lunchtime at the Fairview Welcome Table. The community room of the Fairview Christian Fellowship Church is bustling with people and fragrant with the aromas of freshly prepared food. Volunteers fill the long serving tables with salads, bread, soups and today’s special, Hickory Nut Gap chicken and rice. The hum of conversation and the chime of laughter grow louder as people come in the door and choose their seats. A trio of older women arrives, then several men in work clothes, then a young woman with a baby and another with two toddlers following her like ducklings. There’s a donation bucket on a chair at the door, but no one takes note of who puts what in it; one of the older women puts in a ten-dollar bill, enough to pay for her meal and two others. There’s a twenty in there too, and some fives and ones, put in by others who are able to be generous today. Others have to pass it by – but no one notices who does or doesn’t. We’re all there to share a meal together. Friends greet each other, first-timers make new acquaintances across the tables, children share glances full of mischief. Everyone steals looks at the dessert table’s platters of homemade brownies, cookies and cake. There are a few announcements; we sing a song together and thank the volunteers. This week a group of young men and women from the Job Corps has offered to wash dishes so that we can eat our lunch from “real plates.” Their sponsor, Mickey Beland, proudly introduces them and tells us that every one of them is going on soon to either a permanent job or an internship in the Forest Service.
This month, the Welcome Table will celebrate its first birthday. For the past year faithful volunteers have been coming every week on Wednesday to prepare, and on Thursday to serve, a copious, fresh and healthy lunch to our community. In the summer of 2010, Barbara Trombatore got a call from Susan Sides about a weekly Welcome Table in Black Mountain developed and managed by John Cragnole, a retired restaurant owner. John had moved from the original location established by the Swannanoa United Methodist Church because he saw a similar need in Black Mountain. Barbara agreed with Susan that Fairview would also benefit from such a service, and took it on without a second thought “because I love to feed people!” she said. She began by volunteering at the Black Mountain Welcome Table to learn the process, then started recruiting volunteers by email and notices in the Town Crier. The Fairview Welcome Table served its first meal to 68 people on the first Thursday of April 2011.
The core group of volunteers who have seen the effort through from its first days all agree that the Welcome Table is close to their hearts. On a recent Wednesday they shared their experiences with the Crier as they chopped, washed and mixed ingredients for the next day’s feast. Their talk was interspersed with directions and questions: Is this too spicy? (Everyone always has a taste at the Wednesday prep session.) Shall I put all of these strawberries into the salad? Do potato skins go into the goat can? Oh yes, goats love potato skins!
As she chopped fresh fruit, Denise Madle said that the group of volunteers, who melded together beautifully from the start, have become good friends over the past year. “When I can’t come, I miss it,” she said. Mary Dean Beland is particularly proud of the sense of belonging the Table brings to the community. “At first,” she remembered, “people would just come to eat and then leave. But now they stay after eating and visit.” Mary Dean was delighted one day recently when a widow new to the area came up to her to say how glad she was for the opportunity to meet her neighbors and socialize. Karen Zimmerman added that she was one of the grateful newcomers herself. “I came for lunch and stayed to help.” She sees the Welcome Table as building community not only for the people who come to share lunch but for all of Fairview. And through all the bustle and talk, small and pretty Lily Abel worked quietly. Lily is a homeschooled child who has volunteered at the Table from almost the beginning. She does just about everything from washing produce to serving salads, always with a smile and a willing hand.
The Welcome Table survives through the energy of the volunteers and the generosity of the community. Hickory Nut Gap Farm donates meats. The Lord’s Acre gives fresh produce — an estimated ton of in the last year. Bethany United Methodist Church, Abiding Savior Lutheran Church and the Spring Mountain Community Center have supplied delicious homemade desserts on given weeks. And gracious businesses and individuals have contributed funds. But the need is ongoing in the Welcome Table’s effort to deliver good food and fellowship to those who most need it. Recently, the Welcome Table has begun to reach out to the people served by Food for Fairview. Also, a grant from Bi-Lo has enabled the Welcome Table to purchase and donate fruit for a Fairview Elementary project that supplies students with nutritious snacks.
So what would Barbara like most for a Welcome Table birthday present? Support, and more support, in volunteers and in donations. “If every church in Fairview offered to contribute desserts,” she said as an example, “we would be covered for a whole three months and each church would only be contributing four times a year.” She would love to see more businesses and individuals become involved as well; private donations are always hugely appreciated. And last but never least, she hopes to increase the number of the beloved volunteers. See you at lunch!
Note: To find out more about the Welcome Table or to volunteer, contact Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page at Welcome Table of Fairview.