By Kurt Aschermann
Last Tuesday evening two faith communities here in Leesburg, Sha’ are Shalom synagogue and Christ Episcopal Church, conducted what I think was the 34th Community Table of Loudoun dinner. CTL, which is now four years old, continues to periodically provide an elegant sit-down dinner for anybody that feels like coming. No questions asked, no litmus test of eligibility.
You might wonder why I say ‘I think’ this was the 34th dinner but within that ambiguity is the heart of what makes CTL work: Nobody is in charge, there is no board of directors, we don’t raise any money and nobody gets a tax write off for anything. And nobody has kept a running count though we have served almost 3,500 meals—I think. In other words, CTL is the least organized and structured program in Loudoun County and yet, perhaps, the most effective.
This was our second Community Table of Loudoun dinner this month. Two weeks ago, our original faith community supporters, Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, under the leadership of Larry Newell (who organized the very first dinner four years ago), Kathy MacKrell, Ron Harding and Jim Mastria, served 60 guests in the sanctuary of the church. Ambiance perfect. Food fabulous. Music divine … a typical CTL dinner.
This week, our guests were served—all 85 of them—as usual by smiling people in black pants and white starched shirts. Greeted at the Hostess Podium they were escorted to their tables, asked for their drink order then provided with three courses including salad, chicken, green beans and the best roasted potatoes since my mother’s some 60 years ago, all cooked to perfection by the very successful chef and caterer, Rochelle Myers, who not only donated her time but took the budget the synagogue gave her for food and did it for half what she was allotted. With a leadership team at the synagogue of Sandy Winter (who has been with CTL since the beginning), and Lisa Cohen, they were joined by over 30 volunteers including Pattie Palmer and what seemed like half the congregation of Christ Church who provided the deserts, waited tables and cleaned up after.
The crowds at both of these dinners were truly a microcosm of the CTL audience. There were seniors out for an evening with friends, dressed to kill and staying ‘til the very end. We had people that were obviously food insecure (anyone who wonders where even a single meal is coming from in the course of a month, is food insecure), and we had some people that were more than food insecure—they were life insecure, and we had young families out for dinner together. One guest this past Tuesday said, ‘who put this dinner on for us?’ When I responded “Sha’are Shalom and Christ Episcopal Church,” he said, “Jews and Christians together … see there ain’t no reason for all of us to be fighting. There’s good people everywhere.”
Indeed, there are. And the “good people” of Crossroads, Sha’ are shalom and Christ Church provided for our guests.
Also donated, as its been for four years, was the senior center. The county lets us use the senior centers for our dinners free of charge and thanks to the usual outstanding service provided by Cheryl Wheeler and Jackie Mayne (who was just part of the team and always saying “yes, we can do that.”) we were in by 4 and out by 7:30 p.m. having made a lot of people quite happy.
And finally, there are the leaders over at Loudoun Hunger Relief, Jennifer Montgomery and Erica Huddleston. I drive those poor women crazy every time we put on a dinner. You see Loudoun Hunger Relief is how we reach our guests … for weeks before each dinner Erica and Jennifer diligently stuff our flyer into the food bags that our friends take home. Not only that, they produce them, too. So I’m always checking to make sure the word is getting out and they both love telling me to “relax old man, we got ya covered.” Just two other unsung heroes that make CTL work.
I don’t want to get too dramatic here and suggest what happens at Community Table dinners offsets some of the rancor and hate that seems to dominate our lives today. But, well, CTL dinners offset some of the rancor and hate that seems to dominate our lives today. It is an example of what can happen when good people just decide to do something good for somebody else without getting a single thing in return.
Could the CTL model work for other things? Why not. As someone once said (it’s attributed to everybody from St. Francis of Assisi to Winston Churchill), “a lot can be accomplished if nobody cares who gets the credit.” That’s the heart of Community Table. People just dive in and get it done and nobody stands up and says “I did this,” including the faith communities. It’s not about credit. It’s just love is what it is.
See you Sept. 19 when our friends at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun join with St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church back at the Leesburg Senior Center to provide another wonderful evening for people that so richly deserve it.
Kurt Aschermann spearheads Community Table of Loudoun. Working for You is a rotating column providing space for Loudoun’s nonprofit leaders to let readers know what they do and how they can help the cause. To participate in the program, email email@example.com.