What Can One Person Do?
Igniting the compassionate response of the local community, one person dared to share her ideas with others and sparked the foundations of an organization that has served as a model of neighborly caring for decades.
In 1986, Margie Goud Patterson walked the Crop Walk with her son Blake Goud and learned that in her affluent Concord town people were hungry. She and her friend Robin Tardo wanted to address the issue so the two placed an ad in the local newspaper inviting all citizens to meet and create a solution. The turnout was inspiring and the enthusiasm to create a place where everyone was welcome became a central tenet of Open Table. More than one hundred people attended the first dinner demonstrating a need that many in the community didn’t think existed.
Open Table started by serving dinner in the First Parish Church in Concord, MA. The early founders believed that everyone should be served with dignity and on china. This restaurant or “night out” feeling where each guest is served with respect continues today and provides a needed sense of community. Head cooks vie to create the most popular and nutritious meals, often sharing recipes with the entire community based on guest responses.
Soon after opening, the need for groceries was apparent and so an ad hoc pantry emerged. Volunteers filled bags with cans of food in the morning and that night were distributed at dinner. Storage became an issue at the church and the off-site Everett Street pantry storage location was established through the help of the Town of Concord. Every Thursday morning volunteers still gather and fill bags to be delivered by local school children to the church in time for distribution.
In 2006, a second location providing the same services was established in the Maynard Congregational Church. When the program grew so big that a new location was needed Wellesley Management invited Open Table to use the Dining Hall at Clock Tower Place in Maynard and to rent a pantry location nearby in the building. Since 2010, Open Table has had a permanent pantry site making it possible to offer a grocery store setting with both perishable and non-perishable foods. Refrigeration also made it possible to participate in the offerings of the Greater Boston Food Bank. Open Table volunteers drive weekly to South Boston to bring back over 5000 pounds of food. Open Table is proud to have been named GBFB Strategic Partner, an accolade based on level and quality of service to those in need.
In the beginning, Open Table had a board that acted also as an operating team. When the Maynard site was established, a second operating team was formed. Mixing the day to day demands of distributing over 7000 lbs. of food a week and keeping up with the fundraising and planning of the organization became very difficult. In 2009, a twelve-person advisory board was created with the president acting as the liaison between the board and the operating teams. The board provides the over-arching guidance needed for the long term planning of the organization and to assist with fundraising and policy making.
One person can make a really big difference, an estimated 500,000 dinners have been served since Margie launched Open Table and she didn’t stop there. Margie moved to a small mountain town in Colorado where she helped start another non-profit – The Old Gallery (www.theoldgallery.org) – a Center for Community and The Arts, that includes a community cupboard food bank and a community clothes closet.