Special to The SWT
RADFORD – On a corner of Tyler Ave., surrounded by RU campus, sits an unsuspecting surprise. In a great dining hall, laughter and cheer can be found amongst clanging of dishes and silverware. Here, area residents gather together for fellowship, friendship and a homestyle meal.
Guests enter and are greeted with warm smiles, seated at clothed tables and told the menu for that day. Delicious homestyle meals, whose quality could rival those of area restaurants, are served on beautifully decorated dinner china. Volunteers continue to serve guests in typical restaurant fashion but with a bonus: the meals are free, heartwarming and open to anyone in the area.
Every Saturday at 4 p.m., rain or shine, teams from area churches and organizations hold a community meal that is hosted at Unity Christian Church. This weekly event, CommUnity Table, was founded by Unity Christian Church in 2012 based off two needs: fellowship and hunger.
“As we started to look at the needs of the community, one of the things we realized is that we had a lot of hungry people here,” explained Cindy Stump, chairman of the board for CommUnity Table, “Half of the elementary or middle school children here are eligible for free or reduced lunch. That is a staggering figure.”
Along with CommUnity Table’s own research, Feeding America reports that there are an estimated 362,747 people at risk of hunger in our region with around 3,000 of those who reside in Radford. With this information, Unity Christian Church decided that this was a serious problem that needed to be addressed and developed a program to do so.
Since establishing this event, CommUnity Table has served over 3,000 meals with an average of 35-60 guests each Saturday. Guests can dine-in for social fellowship but there is also a carry-out service available. “Some guests take carry-out with them when they leave, because they might not know where tomorrow’s meal is coming from either. Some people come for carry-out to take to family members such as parents,” stated Stump.
Stump explained that the program wasn’t just created to meet the needs of the hungry in the community, “It’s for people who want fellowship, who want a break, or who just want a hot meal. The fellowship makes people feel like a part of something, that they are valued. It’s not just about nourishing the body but also the soul.”
Frequent guests consist of all ages and backgrounds, including area college students. It is common that friendships are made here and even extended family. Some guests have even become volunteers for the events. “I think it is a great thing. My kids love to come here. We come every Saturday because we love the people,” explained one mother, “Everyone is so nice. I think it is great to be able to come here and the food is always so good. It’s a really good environment.”
There is rarely a complaint of the menu choices, which normally consists of popular comfort foods such as pork barbeque, fried chicken and ham. During the summer you can find grilled hotdogs and hamburgers and sides. “It’s as sweet as home,” laughed one seven-year-old boy with a mouthful of hash brown casserole, “I love the potatoes!”
Although the program was founded and is hosted at Unity Christian Church, it consists of a huge collaboration effort within the community. Other area churches and organizations such as Grove Methodist, Wesleyan Foundation, Canterbury House and various RU groups take part by creating teams that prepare meals and serve the guests each Saturday. Area businesses and organizations including Kroger, Panera Bread, Daily Bread, Taco Inn and Benny Nicola’s Pizza donate food and supplies to help with the effort.
Anyone is welcome to volunteer, create a team or donate, “We are always looking,” stated Stump, “We encourage others if they want to form a team or to help, to contact us. We will teach them what they need to do and let them pick a Saturday.”
Stump emphasized it is an honor and a pleasure that CommUnity Table is able to offer this to the community and is looking forward to continued service for a long time to come, “It might be a blessing for those who come in, but it is more of a blessing to us.”
For more information on visiting, volunteering or donating you can contact CommUnity Table committee members Sandy Pascoe (Team Scheduler), Sally Davis (Menu Coordinator) or Becky Moore (Media and Information) at Unity Christian Church, 400 Tyler Ave, Radford, VA or call 639-3696.