Approaching the fifth year of Chattanooga’s city-wide potluck known as “One Table,” host Causeway is renaming the event for national expansion. Locally, the event will remain the same, taking place during the lunch hour on Nov. 19 in the middle of Martin Luther King Boulevard at one long table.
"One Table was born from a desire to unite different groups of people in Chattanooga. In 2014 the staff of Causeway, a local social innovation nonprofit, were walking to lunch discussing the invisible wall that stood on Martin Luther King Boulevard, dividing two of the city’s green spaces, Miller Park and Miller Plaza. Miller Plaza is known as a popular venue for outdoor concerts and plays a key role in Chattanooga’s startup culture. Before the current reconstruction, Miller Park was known as a place for people experiencing homelessness, or who lived in nearby subsidized housing. Causeway decided to invite both sides, and the broader groups that they represented, to share a meal at one table in the middle of that dividing line.
"The first year 700 people showed up to what the nonprofit thought would be a one-time event. Because the city embraced it so much, it has since become a beloved tradition. Each year, the event has grown. In 2015, it was covered in the Washington Post. In 2016, the event was replicated in Huntsville, Al. In 2017 it was replicated in Milan, Tn. Locally last year, over 1200 neighbors showed up, and 100 percent of the people who took Causeway’s survey said that they had a conversation with someone they had never met before," officials said.
Causeway’s Creative Director Chelsea Conrad says, “In my experience, people actually want to get to know people who are different from them, but they don’t always know how to go about it. At this event, we are really intentional about designing an experience that makes people more comfortable taking that step and introducing themselves to someone they would probably never meet in their day-to-day lives.”
In addition to the two cities that have already replicated the event, Causeway has received many requests from other cities who have heard about the event and want to host their very own city-wide potluck.
"In 2014 when Causeway hosted the first One Table, they did not foresee the growth and success that would come with it. Once the group started to look at national expansion, they found an existing nonprofit named One Table that already existed in several cities where they were looking to expand," officials said.
In order to be able to share the event with other cities, Causeway has rebranded One Table to be called “Gratefull”. The name, brand, and a replication guide are free for any city to use to host their own event.
“After five years of growth, this event is a big production for us that takes a lot of planning and a lot of partners. But the first year, we planned it in just a few weeks with a couple thousand dollars, and the social return on that investment has been exponential. We want to empower other cities to bring their community together in the same way,” says Abby Garrison, Causeway’s executive director.
There are no strict rules around the replications. It has to be a free meal the week of Thanksgiving that is open to everyone. Otherwise, Causeway invites other cities to host the event in a way that makes sense within the context of their city.
In Huntsville, the event closely mirrored Chattanooga’s, taking place at lunch time on the Monday before Thanksgiving in the middle of a downtown street. Milan is a small town in west Tennessee with a population of just under 8,000 people. Because most people tend to commute into other cities for work, the town hosted their event on a Saturday afternoon when more families could attend. “We had to think about the resources that we had in our community to pull it off. The churches cooked most of the sides, the firemen cooked the turkeys and everyone was able to come on a Saturday,” said Kathy Conrad, organizer of One Table Milan. “It was truly powerful to see our community not just serving the needy, but sharing a meal and really getting to know people who were different than them.”
Locally everything remains the same. Gratefull Chattanooga will be hosted by Causeway on Monday, Nov. 19 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on the 200 block of MLK Boulevard at one long table in the middle of the street. The Feed Co. Table and Tavern is the presenting sponsor this year. Dish t’ Pass is cooking the turkey and the dressing at cost, as they have since the very first year. Many local restaurants are bringing large side dishes to share, and individuals are again encouraged to bring a potluck dish. Causeway is still accepting additional sponsors for this year’s event at causeway.org/gratefull.