Members of Ashburn-based Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith communities united last Sunday evening to serve a free restaurant-style meal to people who seldom have the opportunity to dine out.
The event was the most recent in a series of Community Table dinners organized to provide a fine dining experience for low-income individuals and families. Members of two or more faith communities have joined to host most of the dinners, giving them the opportunity to build interfaith friendships while serving people in need, organizers said.
About 150 people attended the dinner, which was held at Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling. Volunteers have served more than 1,500 meals at 14 events across Loudoun County since June2014, said Kurt Aschermann, who has spearheaded the Community Table project since its inception.
Although Aschermann had initially intended to start a soup kitchen to address the problem of food insecurity, he decided instead to organize sit-down dinners that would give people a rare opportunity to enjoy an elegant dinner with their families.
“We’re not making a dent in poverty,” he said. “It’s about hospitality.”
The dinner also provided an opportunity for members of Christian Fellowship Church, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society to work together.
A line of people stretched down the school hallway as hostesses welcomed guests at the cafeteria door and seated them at tables draped with white tablecloths, decorated with centerpieces and illuminated by candlelight. Waiters and waitresses took orders as music played softly in the background.
Meanwhile, members of the three faith communities stood side by side in the kitchen, filling plates with chicken, rice, potatoes and vegetables. Salads, rolls and desserts rounded out the meal.
Although many of the adult guests spoke little English, their appreciation was evident in their faces.
“Thank you guys,” one man called out as he left. “May God bless you guys.”
Many of the guests were the families of Rolling Ridge students, said Kim Comrie, the school’s assistant principal. About two-thirds of the students at the school receive free or reduced-price meals — an indicator of financial need — Comrie said.
Because the dinners are open to anyone, guests did not have to demonstrate need, Aschermann said. However, event publicity targeted lower-income families through the county’s Department of Family Services and nonprofit groups such as Loudoun Interfaith Relief, he said.
Aschermann said the dinners have the added benefit of building friendships among the faith communities “that go way beyond just serving food.” The three Ashburn congregations, neighbors on Beaumeade Circle, co-hosted a dinner last year as well.
“Working together has been fabulous,” said Susan Mandel Giblin of Beth Chaverim. “Because we’re so close to each other . . . we thought it would be really easy for us to work together, and it has been.”
“We are like three different corners of a triangle,” said Humera Subzwari of ADAMS. “We are connected and we are serving people in the community. We are not thinking about the differences in our faith at all.”
Mike Trivett, of Christian Fellowship Church, agreed. “Ultimately we are all together, wanting to make this community be a better place,” he said. “These are ways to make people feel special and dignified . . . for an evening, in a way that maybe they don’t get to enjoy on a regular basis.”
After coordinating last year’s event, a group of women from the three congregations started meeting informally every month for coffee or lunch. Leigh Anne Hickey of Christian Fellowship Church said that she always looks forward to the get-togethers.
“For me, one of the biggest benefits has just been friendship,” Hickey said. “I love these girls.
“It can be really easy, listening to the news, to get skewed ideas in our heads,” she added. “But really, we all want to bless our community . . . All of us see the need.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.