On the evening of June 11, Community Table of Loudoun will serve a free sit-down dinner at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn for anyone who would like to attend.
The event will be the first in a series of quarterly dinners to be organized by Community Table, an initiative sponsored by 22 area faith communities to provide food to people in need and increase awareness of food insecurity, said Kurt Aschermann, who is spearheading the project.
Aschermann, who retired after a career in marketing and fundraising for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, said he has long been interested in issues related to hunger and poverty. He first conceived of Community Table as a soup kitchen to help people in need.
“It evolved over a period of time from being a traditional soup kitchen to something that is very unique, very different,”
Aschermann said. “Instead of a classic soup kitchen, where you get your tray, and they put the food on the tray, and you sit down and eat and get out so they can get the next one in, what Community Table has evolved to is a little bit more of an elegant dinner.” He described the dinner as “an opportunity for those [who] are food-insecure to have a nice night out with their family.”
Catherine Motivans, accessibility services manager for the Loudoun County government, said that Community Table will complement other county programs that provide food to people in need.
“It provides an atmosphere of formal family dining, as if a family is going out to dinner,” said Motivans, who serves on Community Table’s steering committee. “Setting it up that way provides a lot of dignity for families in need.”
The steering committee’s goal is to serve dinners in three areas of the county on the same night, four times a year, starting in September. The dinners will be served in church halls or senior centers in eastern, central and western Loudoun, Aschermann said.
Although the dinners are intended to provide meals for people in need, they are open to everyone, Aschermann said. Those who attend will not be required to register, give their names or demonstrate need.
The first dinner will be at Crossroads United Methodist Church from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 11. It will serve as a pilot project, event organizers said.
“Our goal is to try and do the absolute best that we can do for the first dinner, with the hope that all the other congregations will participate with us and that we will all learn from what happens here,” said Larry Newell, a church member who is helping coordinate the dinner.
People who attend the event will be greeted, seated and served dinner by members of the church.
“We don’t call them volunteers,” associate pastor Flor Norris said. “We call them servants.”
Newell said that about 50 church members have signed up as servants, to help with setting up, making decorations, preparing the food and serving the meals. Live music will also be provided by church members.
Organizers said they expect the Community Table concept to be fully in place in September, when other faith organizations will begin joining together to host three dinners on a quarterly basis. Among the faith communities that have committed to the project are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i and Unitarian Universalist congregations across the county.
Aschermann said that a key part of the program is building awareness about food insecurity, which he defined broadly as “anytime someone goes to bed hungry.”
“Food insecurity cuts across the board,” he said. “There are probably people living in pretty nice houses in Loudoun County who are food-insecure.”
The congregations that have committed to participate in Community Table have agreed to spend two or three weeks before the dinner talking about issues related to hunger and poverty in America. These conversations will be during worship services and in activities for youth groups and adults, Aschermann said.
“We realized that we’re certainly not going to make a dent in poverty in Loudoun County serving dinner four times a year,” he said. “But if we can influence the people in the pews about how difficult this issue really is across the country, and across the world, and here in Loudoun County, we might have some impact.
“If we have 22 faith communities every year spending two or three weeks talking about poverty, I think we’re going to influence some people,” he said.
Aschermann said that the faith communities will also build relationships outside their congregations as they host and serve the dinners. For example, some faith traditions have strict rules about food preparation and diet, he said. “By serving together, they will learn from one another.”
Crossroads United Methodist Church is at 43454 Crossroads Dr., Ashburn. For information about the dinner, call 703-729-5100, Ext. 131, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Barnes is a freelance writer.