Connecting Neighbors – Building Community

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Three years ago, more than 700 Chattanoogans from diverse backgrounds gathered for a citywide Thanksgiving meal to break bread together and connect with their neighbors. With a table stretching a full city block along Martin Luther King Boulevard in the heart of downtown, the ℹ️ 1TABLE event—held the Monday before Thanksgiving—was intentional in its design and location to help bridge gaps and forge new connections. By 2016, the event more than doubled in size with over 1,500 people from across the city coming together in one place, at one table.

“The space between Miller Park and ℹ️ Miller Plaza seemed like a symbol of the things that often separate us,” says Abby Garrison, the executive director of ℹ️ Causeway, the nonprofit that hosts the annual event. “1TABLE is Causeway’s attempt to remove barriers and bring people together from across Chattanooga to get to know each other and build understanding and friendship. I think we really struck a chord with people wanting to gather around a table together and get to know their neighbors.”

The vision for 1TABLE was born when Garrison and her other colleagues at Causeway were sitting at their desks sharing ideas for how to address the physical divide and stereotypes associated with the area surrounding Miller Park. Causeway had just launched a grant competition called Causeway Challenge, which provides grants to individuals and organizations who want to find solutions to address the city’s most pressing challenges. Causeway’s staff decided to do a project of their own (on a $2,500 budget) and had only one month to plan the first event. Several local businesses immediately came on board to assist, including ℹ️ Dish T’Pass, a local catering company whose passion for “food love” aligned perfectly with the vision of 1TABLE. Dish T’Pass prepares the turkey, dressing, and gravy for each year’s event.

CSAS Choir performing for the community at 1 TABLE last year.

“It is that whole idea of being part of something that is much bigger than you are as an individual,” says Amanda Varnell, owner of Dish T’Pass. “It was just amazing how the first event all came together. You would have times when your eyes would water as you watched such an amazing, eclectic group of people come together. We had city leaders, elected officials, and people who worked in big banks and offices who were mixing with people who congregated at the park at the time, our homeless community.”

Serving over 1,500 people a Thanksgiving dinner requires some creative food choreography—and a big team of volunteers—and Varnell is committed to preparing the highest quality food for the event.

“We have made a commitment from the very first year that we don’t take any shortcuts, so the turkey, the dressing and the gravy that we serve at the event is what you will find us using on our holiday menu for our corporate and private clients,” says Varnell.

1TABLE location at Miller Park in 2016 will move in 2017 to the front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

Due to construction at Miller Park, this year’s 1TABLE event will take place Monday, November 20, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at a new location—just one block up on Martin Luther King Boulevard in front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Though not required, Causeway encourages individuals attending the event to bring a side dish or dessert in the true spirit of a neighborhood potluck. In order to continue to grow the impact of the event, Causeway relies on a broad base of government, corporate, and organizational partners who provide donations, sponsorship, and volunteers to help with set up, serving, and packing up after the event. ℹ️ Unum has been a lead sponsor of 1TABLE since the event launched in 2014, with several employees attending and volunteering at the event.

“At Unum, we know that relationships are the true foundation of a strong community,” says Suzanne Payne, Unum Corporate Social Responsibility Director. “We also know that relationships start with a conversation. 1TABLE offers us all a chance to get to know our neighbor and hopefully learn something about Chattanooga that we may not have known before. We have to make the effort to break down our barriers and Unum is thankful to Causeway for creating this opportunity.”

For Garrison, the success of the event reaffirms Causeway’s entrepreneurial mission to inspire and equip Chattanoogans to develop smarter solutions to our city’s toughest challenges.

“At Causeway, we are all about helping people stay inspired but also find the resources and tools they need to develop and execute community-based projects in their own neighborhood,” says Garrison. “If you have a good idea, get it out there and see if it can make the community better and bring people together and solve a problem—just go for it.”

1TABLE’s unique approach to bringing the community together has become a national model, with several cities replicating the program this year. Causeway has also partnered with the national Giving Tuesday initiative, a global day of giving that Causeway organizes locally each year through CHAGives to encourage Chattanoogans to donate to worthy causes.

“Giving Tuesday has pushed out a replication guide that we put together for 1TABLE that will go out through their entire network,” says Garrison. “So there might be 1TABLE events across the country. We hope as other people host 1TABLE events that they use it as an opportunity to drive conversations and bring people together who otherwise wouldn’t come together.”

A spanning table accomodates over 1500 attendees throughout the day.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED
1TABLE will take place on Monday, November 20, 2017 from 11:30 AM–1:30 PM on Martin Luther King Boulevard on the block in front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Here’s how you can get involved:

ATTEND
Come connect with the community and bring a side dish or dessert the size you’d take to a typical potluck (disposable containers encouraged).

VOLUNTEER
Gather some friends to help set up, serve food, or pack up after the event.

DONATE
Give a cash donation to help offset the food costs and invite a friend to join you for lunch through the “buy a friend a meal” campaign (100% of proceeds support the event and Causeway’s mission of community building).

Learn more at www.causeway.org/1table

Photography by Christina Marie Photography

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Jennifer Watts Hoff is a frequent contributor to Chattanooga Magazine.

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