Last year, I wrote about a very cool community movement called The Longest Table, geared toward hosting meals and conversations to connect people who may not normally get a chance to meet.
The event was the brainchild of Bryan Stewart, who serves as the legislative aide to Commissioner Christopher Shaw.
The food varies, the people change and the settings shift, but one thing that’s always consistent is the interesting people who are passionate about their community.
Once again, the star dish served up last week at a table for hundreds — spanning the middle of the Third Street Peace Bridge leading to downtown Dayton — was the people, the conversation and the fellowship.
Those attending were from all walks of life and backgrounds with one thing in common — an interest in connecting with some of their neighbors and having a real conversation.
Pork and chicken tacos were provided by the fantastic folks at Table 33 (www.table33dayton.com) and some really good cookies were provided by St. Anne the Tart (http://stannethetart.com). Other dishes were prepared with love by different volunteers. It was a good meal made much better by the grand community we have gathering in support. We recently sat down with Stewart to ask some questions. Here’s what he had to say, which was another reminder of why breaking bread with others is such a very powerful act.
Q: Explain the longest table for those unfamiliar with it?
A: The Longest Table is a free community meal and conversation designed to get folks who wouldn’t normally get a chance to connect talking with one and other. Our goal is to bring folks together to build a stronger, more prosperous Dayton while also talking about the real issues and obstacles that are going on.
Q: What made you think about having food as a catalyst for getting to know one another and working on connecting people in the community?
A: Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Florida is responsible for coming up with the Longest Table. We thought using food and honest conversations with strangers was desperately needed in Dayton. According to the Brookings Institute, we’re the 14th most segregated city in the U.S. We need to start engaging with each other more and breaking down some of these barriers and we believe food is a great way to do it.
Q: What do you think it is about sharing a meal that can help bring people together?
A: We all have to eat. Food is an expression of culture and a great bridge to connect different types of people.
Q: Do you have any longest table events from now until the end of the year? If yes, can you give details on when, where and how people can sign up and get more information?
A: Only two meals left this year! Old North Dayton, McCook Field – Sept 8, 1-3 p.m.
Sinclair Community College, Oct. 4 – 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Q: What has the feedback been about this latest longest table?
A: We had some great feedback. What was seriously surprising is the huge percentage of folks participating that have never had a chance to come to a meal.
Q: How long has this project been going on and what do you think it’s helped accomplish so far?
A: It started in 2016 with our first big meal on the Third Street Bridge in October of 2016. I think the meals jump started a new way for Daytonians to dialogue with each other. The Longest Table highlights the opportunities existing all around us to engage someone new.
Did you miss it?
If you missed the event, it’s not too late to get involved! Organizers of The Longest Table are inviting people to host follow-up conversations in their homes, neighborhoods, churches and favorite neighborhood restaurants. To learn more and sign up, visit thelongesttabledayton.com.