Once upon a time, on a Thanksgiving many years ago, the Native Americans and Pilgrims came together for a time of feast and peace. Ever since 2005, people from all over Aiken, and even from out of Aiken, have gathered together in a style similar to that first turkey day.
One Table is an “event put on by the community for the community,” Kathryn Wade, event organizer, said.
Smells of turkeys, mashed potatoes, rice, dressing with gravy, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn-on-the-cob, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes will mix and waft through the Alley’s air this year on Nov. 22 at 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“All the food arrives both the day before Thanksgiving and the day of,” Wade said.
Planning for more than 3,000 guests, chefs will be plunging away at cooking 150 turkeys – all donated by one person.
Church congregations and community members also put their cooking and baking skills into the pot by contributing assigned dishes or homemade desserts and cold salads, Wade said.
Continuing in the community spirit, about 150 people have lent their time this year to help out with this large-scale occasion.
“They work on the serving line to fill plates, serve drinks and desserts, bus tables, run food between the kitchen and the serving tables and various other necessary chores,” Wade said. “We all wear One Table T-shirts and get down to business serving the thousands of guests.”
Some volunteers come in for the first time, while some come back year after year.
City Manager Richard Pearce is one volunteer who, after just one year, was hooked.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful event,” he said. “It brings the community together in true Aiken style. (As a volunteer,) I cook food, set-up, take down.”
Pearce usually has his wife and daughter by his side and had his mother too, before she passed.
“(My daughter) had no idea what went into preparing a turkey for eating, and after cleaning more than 20 herself, she glowed with gratitude as it dawned on her exactly what someone else had been doing all these years so she could enjoy a traditional holiday meal,” Pearce said in his Aiken Standard article about his family’s first One Table experience back in 2006. “As I spent time cleaning, hauling turkeys and talking with this dedicated volunteer group, then witnessing first-hand the next day so many others cooking the meals, smoking, frying or baking the turkeys, carving turkeys, heating casseroles, serving on the buffet line, bringing desserts to the tables and cheerfully assisting in clearing off the tables, the day’s message struck hard: This event is what Thanksgiving really is all about.”
Pearce has worked and attended One Table for many years since that day. To his dismay, he will have to
miss this year, but he said he will “be there in spirit.”
Since the event is so open to all, the operators can’t help but bite their nails a bit about possible food shortages.
“Every year there is a little anxiety toward the end of the day that we will not have enough food,” Wade said. “In the end, we always have food to serve, the selection may become a little smaller around 1:30 p.m. to† 2 p.m., but no one goes away hungry.”
Author Marti Healy remembers the first One Table, when people had to bring in side dishes because only the turkey was provided, and the set-up was serve-yourself.
“We have some powerfully good cooks in Aiken,” she said. “It was an amazing day. The concept is what still attracts me most – all of us coming together as a community, regardless of economic status, age, etc. †It is what the original Thanksgiving was all about – and what we too often forget in today’s society.”
Stopping by the event after her visit to her first Blessing of the Hounds event, it was “one of the most spiritual days I have yet experienced,” she said in her Aiken Standard article on the experience. “The tables were laid end-to-end down in The Alley, forming a symbolic cross...To my mind, this is what Thanksgiving Day is all about. Sharing together. Serving each other.”
Healy has written professionally for over 30 years and currently lives in Aiken with her dog Sophie and cats Sparkey and Tuppence.
“I love this community, and sitting next to those I know and those I would like to know under one warm sun, and breaking bread together and laughing together and sharing at least one day of each other’s lives is one of those things that makes Aiken so special to me,” she said.
It was eight years ago, when a few residents, St. Thaddeus’ Soup Kitchen and Christ Central Ministries looked around at everyone in town. They saw the young and old, black and white, poor and rich, and wanted to combine everyone, for one day, one feast of real community togetherness. And what better day than Thanksgiving Day.
“It is the one time a year that it does not matter who you are, what you have or do not have or where you live,” Wade said. “All are welcome to as we sit side by side for wonderful meal.”
Barbara Franklin from Christ Central Ministries joined with Eddie George from Public Safety, who in 2004 had expanded a Thanksgiving meal for on-duty officers to include those who might otherwise be without a turkey day meal, to pull off that first year. They reached out to several people and 20 churches to make that first year the success it was.
George’s daughter Jessi George has assisted with One Table since the start, being the Food Coordinator for five of the eight years.
I get with people at local churches and make sure they are committed to their dishes, she said. And on the day, I run the kitchen.
As to be expected with big events, One Table has had its snags. But, every year, it pushes through.
“It’s amazing,” Jessi George said. “This would not work everywhere. Aiken is special.”
Working the event every year makes her feel very proud.
No one volunteer or organization wants to take credit, because it would defeat the point.
One Table is not a hand-out, it’s a hand-shake, Jessi George said, quoting the event motto. People are serving each other. It’s bigger than us; it’s about one community.
Two years ago, One Table added a canned food drive for food pantries like ACTS and Christ Central Ministries. This year, people are still asked to bring a canned food item for the drive.
While no more volunteers are needed, cold salads, dinner rolls and homemade desserts are still being asked for. For anyone wishing to contribute, they can bring the items to Newberry Hall on Nov. 21 between 4 and 6 p.m. or Nov. 22 between 9 a.m. and noon.
For more information, visit www.onetable.org or the event’s Facebook: One Table Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Aiken Standard File Photo Charlotte Williamson and scores of other volunteers made Aikenís 2011 One Table Thanksgiving Day dinner possible.×
Aiken Standard File Photo Charlotte Williamson, top photo, prepares food for Aikenís 2011 One Table Thanksgiving Day dinner. Other volunteers, bottom photo, worked behind the scenes for hours in 2011 to keep One Table plates full of turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and more.×
Aiken Standard File Photo The Alley was packed with thousands as Aikenís One Table played host for the 2011 community dinner.×