West Ashley’s Longest Table will focus on discussing community action

by Bill Davis | News Editor

Have you seen that television commercial where disconnected residents of a big city apartment building of various ages and backgrounds come together after one of their neighbors puts their dinner table in the hall?

Slowly at first, and then quickly, everyone on the hall comes together for a meal that builds community, breeds discussion, and births connections and laughter. It peaks at the moment an elderly man finally emerges from his unit, several salamis in hand.

It’s a touching ad. And now it’s West Ashley’s turn to come together for a community meal, called The Longest Table, an “experimental open public forum that is a hybrid performance-installation-roundtable-discussion-dinner-party designed to facilitate dialogue through the gathering together of people with common interests.”

Modeled after similar efforts from across the country and world, where communities put out food and lets everyone cross barriers and break bread together. Sometimes, the events are just to introduce different parts of town to other parts of town. Sometimes, they are for a distinct purpose.

The West Ashley Longest Table is one of the latter, with a focus on discussing community action, and with its proceeds to go toward replacing the West Ashley Bikeway entry located at the intersection of Wappoo road and Savannah Highway in the DuWapp part of town.

The event will be held Saturday, April 27, from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Citadel Mall, which has hosted multiple public events over the last year. Admission will be $5, which will go toward the bikeway project.

There will be several options for lunch, prepared by the culinary program at West Ashley High, which just placed third in the state, besting even better-funded Wando. There will be a veggie casserole for those not wanting to eat the barbecue, collards, and beans.

Teresa Tidestrom, the executive director of West Ashley United, an online group bent on getting the good word out about this part of town, says, “This is a great opportunity for the West Ashley community to come together to share ideas and unite to support the common good.”

Meg Thompson, the program coordinator for the city’s Business and Neighborhood Division, ran across the idea and presented it to several neighborhood representatives, who took over the effort. The city is covering the cost of the food and the tables.

“We saw what had been done in other places and thought this was a good fit for West Ashley,” and its ongoing revitalization efforts, says Thompson.

“The timing seemed ideal to bring this kind of event to West Ashley,” said City of Charleston West Ashley Coordinator Eric Pohlman. “As we move into the implementation phase of Plan West Ashley, it’s critical that the community remains engaged and empowered to participate in this process.”

Lisa Stine, the immediate past president of the Dupont Station Neighborhood Association, wants people to focus their discussions on positive efforts for and from the community. As such, she has already assigned “facilitators” at each of the eight-person tables to keep thinks on track.

“We’re here to see what we can all do to improve connectivity, and also to let people in Schieveling Plantation know what people in Avondale are doing,” says Stine.

Part of the community has already come together thanks to the event. Jason Wheless, who just won a “Westie” for his local impact, heads up the culinary program and says local businesses have already reached out to help the event.

“We are counting on providing food for 300 people,” says Wheless. Anthony DiBernardo, one of the owners at Swig & Swine, has offered everything from meat to rolling out one of their mobile smokers, as has Home Team BBQ.

The Longest Table — West Ashley will be held on Saturday, April 27, from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at The Citadel Mall. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased through Eventbrite.com

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