A wild idea named One Table that a local nonprofit organization slammed together in 2014 matured Monday into a Thanksgiving block party that fed 1,000 souls.
Nothing brings Chattanoogans together like food, reasoned officials at Causeway, so they piled up as much Thanksgiving-themed grub as they could muster onto tables in the street between Miller Park and Miller Plaza.
An army of 120 volunteers dished out 275 pounds of bone-in turkey breast, a lifetime's supply of pies and a random assortment of potluck dishes donated by restaurants including Alleia, Community Pie, Public House and Lupi's. Those who attended ranged from CEOs to self-described hobos.
Anchored by a grand piano in the middle of M.L. King Boulevard and a giant community table running the length of the block, the idea behind Causeway's One Table event is to bridge the gap between Chattanooga's new generation of upwardly mobile workers and residents who live on public assistance or under bridges just steps away from the city's emerging technology scene.
"We wanted to bring the Miller Park and Miller Plaza crowds together," said Abby Garrison, executive director for Causeway.
It's a unique idea among U.S. cities, she said, because it pivots from the tradition of merely feeding the downtrodden. Instead, food is used as a way for people who don't normally hang out to meet one another as part of Causeway's mission to make the Chattanooga more connected.
"There was a church group in South Carolina that was doing something like this," Garrison said. "But it was more feeding the homeless rather than bringing everyone together."
Monday's potluck seemed to do the trick.
Local businesspeople broke bread with transients like Lucky Johnson, a man with patched pants and a dog named Blue who rode a freight train into Chattanooga on Monday to find it was his lucky day.
Or Bobby Bell, who lives under a bridge downtown. He says the vibration from cars passing overhead helps keep the snakes away.
"It's a blessing," Bell managed through mouthfuls of turkey. "They don't have this in every city."
They ate a few feet from Terry Everett from South Pittsburg, whose wife Wanda Everett jumped onto the grand piano with Sarah Strickland to play "The Entertainer," and Jack Studer, a tech entrepreneur and Erlanger board member who toyed with his remote-controlled drone.
Franklin McCallie, the scion of one of Chattanooga's most prominent families, grabbed creamer for his coffee as Dish T'Pass co-owner Amanda Varnell rushed through the hungry lines to restock the turkey for residents of the Patton Towers public housing project.
As if to drive the point home, a small choir putting on an impromptu concert belted out the chorus "together, together," the words echoing down the packed street.
Causeway officials hope the One Table event, which was launched in 2014 with a shoestring budget of $2,500, will make money for the organization this year, with donations from sponsors exceeding the cost of the event. Any cash left over will fund future projects.
"The whole point is to pull people together," said Heather DeGaetano, managing director of Causeway. "This accomplishes that."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6315 with tips and documents.