Gather around the Table:
Building community through food and hope
By Tara Whitty
A simple, and practical, act of kindness by one woman in Lemon Grove has blossomed into a flourishing community that not only provides food but also hope, during this pandemic. Noticing some extra food at the end of her volunteer shift at food distribution, local resident Noura Bishay brought the leftovers home, put them on a simple table in front of her house, and broadcast on NextDoor and Facebook: if you need food, there’s some here. Come and take it. Now, weeks later, this Food Giving Table – or, as it’s been renamed by its community, the Table of Hope – hosts food for those in need 24 hours a day, with the food, 4 tables, 2 fridges and freezers, and coolers all donated by the community. Food is donated by individuals and by some partner organizations, with the Table of Hope’s admin team working hard to build more links to help the Table and the community become more self-sufficient. No money is accepted for the food; there are no questions asked; there are no lines, and everyone is respectful. As Noura describes it, “It’s become a hub for the community, a source of hope in a very dark place. We don’t only give food, we give hope because people know we are stronger together and can achieve more.”
Though the Table of Hope grew organically, it offers an efficient and effective model for strengthening food security through community action in neighborhoods. It provides food for those in need, but who fall through the cracks of other food distribution opportunities. People can come to choose what they need while bringing items that they’ve received at pre-packed food distributions that they won’t use. In this way, people can contribute as well as receive, and so can be active participants in the process – several of the admin team originally came to the table to find food, and now work to help others do the same. What might have become food waste can go to households who need that food? Leftovers at the Table of Hope are cooked in meals to distribute at the Table, or are distributed to homeless people, or brought to local farms to feed livestock and compost piles. The goal now is strengthening community resilience through self-sufficiency – building up more partnerships to connect food with where it's needed, and even planting crops in neighborhood plots of land to provide food for the table in the future.
There’s a “feeling that we are in it together, that we’re not alone – a sense of community, ownership, and pride,” says Noura, still in awe of how this community-driven effort has blossomed. With benefits beyond food provision, the Table of Hope’s success at building community offers an important model for other neighborhoods in San Diego County to strengthen food security and community bonds even beyond this pandemic. The table is currently serving more than 450 families.