Table reservations are open for the BV Strong Community Dinner, which will line Main Street for the sixth time on Monday, Sept. 23.
Last year, 454 tables were booked for the free dinner, bringing roughly 3,600 people to sit together and eat a meal right in the middle of Main Street.
The dinner is funded entirely through donations, and even though it has no official sponsors, dinner planner Amy Lively said the dinner still receives large donations from local businesses and companies.
Lively said that the dinner had received over 100 table reservations within an hour of opening this week.
“There is just something really neat about sitting down, sharing a meal, breaking bread with complete strangers, and maybe people you haven’t seen all summer because they work for a rafting company or they work for a camp and they’ve been really busy and meeting people and seeing people that are old friends,” said Mary Chupp, the dinner’s table resources organizer. “I’ve had complete strangers sit at my table because we got set up on Facebook and I still see them around town and say hey. There’s something really special about that.”
In previous years, the dinner’s organizers have provided meat and left the rest of the meal up to table hosts, but starting last year, the team left the entree up to hosts as well.
“It’s just a couple hours a year that we do this,” Lively said. “And I think it does have an impact throughout the year. When people realize we are all in this together, we come as strangers and leave as friends. I read a quote a couple weeks ago that said ‘it’s hard to hate people up close. So get close’ … it’s really about what we have in common, which is more than we think.”
The dinner is looking to book 500 tables to line Main Street this year. Multiply that by 8 people per table for a meal as large as 4,000 people.
The BV Strong Facebook group will act not only as a source of information about the event, but as a matchmaker to help those interested in going to meet up with hosts who have a seat open at their table.
Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and goes until 7 p.m.
“The reason we put an end time on dinner was not to make people leave, but to make people stay,” Lively said. “In the past, they have started eating, then they’re packing up by 6:05.”
Since the dinner got its start 6 years ago, communities around the state have taken on hosting their own dinners. Lively said that towns as far away as Oklahoma are contacting the board asking, “How in the world do you do that?”
The answer: To let the hosts handle the whole thing.
“I think the most important thing for communities to get from the beginning is their ‘why,’ why are they doing this,” Lively said. “If they understand the why, and what this does in your town, then they’ll figure out all the details, and they’ll be driven by the why.”
Those interested in hosting a table should sign up on the BV Strong site as well. Each host is responsible for inviting guests to their table, decorating the table (as much or as little as they wish) and organizing the menu for the meal.
“If someone’s never hosted a table before: It’s like a big picnic where we provide the table and chairs,” Lively said.
Lively asks that hosts use reusable silverware and plates to minimize waste.
“Six years old is still pretty young. Some people are still figuring out (how to host), other people have had it from the beginning,” Lively said. “We talk to other communities all the time about how all this happens. They feel like they need a big team of organizers to do this, but you don’t. You just need table hosts. They make it happen,” Lively said.
Last year, Chupp’s table served a classic southern meal around a centerpiece of Nashville Hot Chicken prepared by her brother, visiting from Music City.
At Lively’s table, “Somebody brought shredded chicken so everybody could make sandwiches, we had tossed salads, we had scalloped potatoes, deserts … It’s as fancy as you want to make it,” Lively said.
One table had a rainbow theme, she remembers, where each table member was assigned a color.
“They had to wear that color, and then bring food that color,” she said.
Actually, a rainbow brought a cathartic feel to the entire meal, whether or not you were the person saddled with trying to find an indigo-colored side dish.
After a brief, chilly rain shower, the clouds parted and a perfect double rainbow appeared over Midland Hill.