Feel-Good Friday: 1 Table in Florence, AL Kicks Off the Holidays and Brings Together the Community
Florence, Alabama, lies at the heart of the Tennessee Valley. Home to the University of North Alabama, it has a rich history not only of education, music, and commerce, but of embracing community. For a town of just over 40,000 residents, this is no small feat. It is this commitment to bringing people together to enjoy life and one another that makes Florence’s 1 Table event a worthy Feel-Good Friday subject.
And it happened just yesterday! On Thursday, November 2, at 11:00 a.m., the 1 Table Event was held in the heart of Downtown Florence. Mobile Plaza is a major hub of businesses and restaurants, but for three hours, it is closed off in order to accommodate the masses. There is no cap on the number of people who might show up, the entire event is donation-based, and one company does all the catering. It is absolutely free to all who come, and there is no agenda aside from meeting your friends and neighbors and maybe somebody you haven’t met before. Save for a couple of awesome local musicians supplying background ambiance, it’s all about the food and the humans who come to eat the food.
How often do you find that anywhere anymore?
1 Table is the brainchild of six local women: Brittany Ashley, Chelsea Wassner, Kristin Husainy, Bevin Thomaston, Scarlett Lyons, and Katrina McCreless. Kristin Husainy invited me to come out and see the power of community coming together.
The common phrase spoken by everyone at the 1 Table event, from the organizers to the volunteers to the community members who attended, was, “We love it.” And what’s not to love? The community gets a free meal catered by the local company Jill’s Sweet Memories, sits down at a single (albeit long) table, and enjoys good food and the company of their neighbors and friends while embracing and getting to know new people and making new friends. How could anyone pass that up? Kristin Husainy was literally aglow as she spoke about how 1 Table came to Florence.
There is ONE Table, and you have no idea who you’re gonna sit next to. For me, it’s my favorite day of the year, because to me it’s what Christmas should be, you know? It is in your living room, and we have the privilege to invite everyone over for, you know, supper. The first year that we did it, we really had no idea what would happen, if 20 people would show up or anything. And so, we went in very blindly and happily! Blindly, because we’re just waiting to see what God would do, and we served, I think, 700 people the first year and that was obviously word-of-mouth—it just kind of happened.
It’s been happening for six years running now, minus that year that shall not be named that attempted to destroy togetherness and community for the entire planet. But I digress. While there are similar events in other cities (another one is happening on Thanksgiving Day in Florence, SOUTH CAROLINA), Alabama’s Florence has probably had the most consistent 1 Table Event to date.
“Well, we’ve increased each year,” Husainy explained. “One year we even had snow! Yeah, there’s just something super special about it—people look forward to it every year. I’ve never been to anything like it.”
Another beautiful part is the volunteers, like Connie and her daughter, who have been serving five of the six years that 1 Table has been happening. Husainy said that people are so hyped about the event that they never have a problem finding volunteers.
I love it. We’ll post the volunteer signups and within a couple of hours, all the volunteer spots are filled. We have probably three times as many volunteers than we probably need, but everybody wants to have a little finger in it, which is really special.
Like Connie and her daughter, the volunteer time is often a family affair. Husainy’s husband and three children serve every year with her, mingling among the locals, helping to clean up, and doing whatever is needed to be done to help 1 Table run smoothly. Many of the volunteers are young people — hat tip to Gen Z and Alpha! — who take the time off school to be a part of it, as Husainy described.
We have probably 30 or 40 high school kids that come every year. Yeah, they love to serve, and carry somebody’s plate. It’s just special. I love the range of ages: we’ve got everything from stay-at-home moms with their babies, to the elderly. They’re like, you know what? I’m gonna get out, and everything in between, so that makes it fun. It’s a diverse group.
What is beautiful about this is it brings the entire town together, gives an excuse for families to bond, and allows friends who maybe do not live in the same town to meet up and spend time with each other. Friends like Bill and Bart.
But another wonderful aspect is the bringing together of people who have only seen each other in passing in Foodland, Target, or Bargain Hunt, but have never officially met before… until they gather around the 1 Table.
If we ever needed an example of community coming together, we need it now, and 1 Table is a poetic rendering of what can happen when we are allowed to meet on common ground. If other small towns and communities could replicate this, 1 Table just might be the salvation of the Republic.