” Those who have changed the universe have never done it by changing officials, but always by inspiring the people.” ~Napoleon Bonaparte
I learned of the Community Table from a fellow co-worker. They were my first choice in volunteer venues, but I learned they were on everyone else’s radar too. I made several attempts in January and February, but was told they were booked out for weeks. Many college students are required to engage in community outreach, making it difficult to get my eager foot in the door. My opportunity came in March, thanks to spring break. I was welcomed with open arms, especially since they feared being short staffed with students and families on vacation.
But they weren’t. They still had out pouring of support.
The Community Table is situated in the heart of Sylva and is open four days a week. Besides serving dinner, they provide a community pantry full of donated breads, fruits, and vegetables as well as non-perishables, OTC medications and hygiene products. They have a total of 12 tables and on a good night they can serve up to 200 people.
Gary is the ringleader and the cook. With thirty years of experience, he serves up good food and generosity each week. He is an endearing man who wears overalls and a big smile. His love for his chosen profession and community spirit is hidden from no one. And no patron leaves without a kind word from him.
“Share our similarities; celebrate our differences.” ~M. Scott Peck
On my first night, I was introduced to the selfless crew and learned every volunteer had a station to man. This made working together seamless. My task was the quick as lightening table busser. I set empty tables, and then cleared the place settings once the customer had finished and scraped the plates, before handing them to the two college students running the dishwasher station.
Early in the evening two seventh grades girls arrived, and were assigned to my team. They were encouraged by their church to try volunteering on their spring break. Since the night was slower than usual, we were three people sharing one job. I imagined we looked like vultures waiting for someone to take their last bite before we could swoop in and clean their plates.
I met Matt, a regular volunteer on Tuesdays, who is also the Catholic youth minister at Western Carolina University. He was welcoming to this newcomer and fun to work with. Each week, Matt brings two students to volunteer and when they aren’t available, he brings two of his sons. The night I volunteered, his seven and ten year old boys were in tow. It was encouraging to see children helping out and respecting others. I think Matt had the right idea about teaching them the importance of community at such a young age. The two boys served dinners to hungry customers for two hours without compliant. Gary rewarded them with surprise Moon Pies at the end of the night, which they devoured in a flash.
This resource embodied its name. It was a community within four walls, consisting of a beautiful, diverse palette of people who knew no strangers. After dinner, they sat with cups of coffee to enjoy each other’s company. Some offered a word of encouragement before heading back out into their own world. I wondered what stories each person had to tell. Everyone has a story. All are important, though some have felt more rain on their backs than sun on their face.
The introvert in me struggled at first to focus on my task and be social with the other volunteers and customers. But Gary gave us some sage advice. He said, “Smile! Have a good time. Because if you ain’t having a good time, it won’t feel good in your heart.”
” Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”~Albert Einstein
Each and every patron expressed sincere thanks in their own way that night. It’s important to remember we all deal with hidden struggles at some point in our lives. Having resources like the Community Table allows us to help each other’s roads be a little less rocky. Anyone who has traveled an arduous path, knows how far a little relief can go. I was thankful to be apart their community if only for a brief moment and look forward to the next time a slot opens up.
” The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” ~ Audrey Hepburn