Linen napkins, china plates, fresh flower centerpieces, made-from-scratch food and a sit-down experience set Haywood Street Congregation’s Downtown Welcome Table apart from the typical soup kitchen. Envisioned by the Rev. Brian Combs, the program brings individuals of all backgrounds and statuses together for a free weekly communal meal that’s undergone various transformations — ditching paper plates, swapping a food distribution line for a full waitstaff and more — since launching in 2009. The latest development: Downtown Welcome Table has added Sunday dinner to its previous Wednesday-only lunch schedule.
“Over time, both people of privilege and people struggling with poverty were just continually naming the desire to have this experience on the weekend, because they couldn’t be here on a Wednesday,” says Laura Kirby, the ministry’s executive director. “It was a long time before we felt ready for that.”
With the number of guests averaging 450 people per Wednesday (served over four separate seatings), the event requires considerable resources. That’s especially true since no corners are cut in the mission to “counter the notion often held by those living on the streets that handouts, hand-me-downs and leftovers are all I deserve,” according to the congregation’s website. Some weeks, the Haywood Street mission funds and staffs the gathering itself. Other times, area restaurants volunteer to cater, crowdfunding the expenses by inviting customer donations for a month prior.
Liz Button, owner and CEO of Heirloom Hospitality Group, manages outside partnerships, and despite the lofty commitment, she says eateries are increasingly eager to lend time and effort. By her estimate, more than 30 businesses have met that challenge in the four years since she joined the Welcome Table, and most opt to cook more than once.
“It’s a huge undertaking for the restaurants, so I try and encourage them to just commit once per year,” she says. “Just think about the numbers: 450 servings of salad, a protein, vegetable, starch and dessert. It’s crazy for most restaurants.”
Haywood Street’s internal pool of volunteers (called “companions” at the Welcome Table in order to invite a deeper relationship with the congregation and “break away from the typical idea that only people of privilege are volunteers,” according to Kirby) served roughly 200 people on each of the first two Sundays in March. Warren Wilson College is the first partner organization to sign up for a Sunday shift, with plans to serve a meal on April 3.
Although the college is soliciting donations from students and dining hall visitors, the institution will absorb most of the cost of feeding attendees. “The hope and expectation is that we’ll have new people come,” Kirby says, adding that the family-style service makes the occasion convivial for anyone who drops in. “Your conversation can just start with ‘Can you pass the green beans?’ and then it goes from there.”
The Downtown Welcome Table is held at Haywood Street Congregation, 297 Haywood St., Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m., noon and 12:45 p.m., and Sundays at 4:30 and 5:15 p.m. No reservations required. Visit haywoodstreet.org for more information.
Favilla’s New York Pizza & Deli to open on Merrimon Ave.
A spinoff of Favilla’s New York Pizza is opening at 640 Merrimon Ave., the previous location of Circle in the Square Pizza and Deli and more recently Grand Central Pizzeria. “There will be more subs on the menu,” but no pasta dinners, says Malik Moore, manager of the West Asheville flagship eatery. “The deli part is going to be deli sandwiches plus sliced meats,” adds employee Randy Lape. Favilla’s Facebook page lists early April as the projected launch date.
Favilla’s existing location is at 1093 Patton Ave. Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday and noon-10 p.m. Sunday. Visit facebook.com/FavillasNewYorkPizza for updates.
Waynesville fish fry dinner
Fried fish, baked beans, coleslaw, hush puppies, a drink and dessert come with each plate at Pigeon Community Multicutural Development Center’s upcoming fish fry. The fundraiser offers eat-in or carry-out options and is being held to help cover general expenses associated with the nonprofit organization’s volunteer-run youth programs.
The fish fry is at PCMDC, 450 Pigeon St., Waynesville, starting at 11 a.m. Friday, March 25. Plates are $8, with fish available separately for $1.50 per piece. Visit facebook.com/PigeonCommunityMulticulturalDevelopmentCenter or call 452-7232 for more information.
Mills River Farmers’ Market relocates
For its 2016 season, the Mills River Farmers Market is moving to Mills River Elementary School. A press release from the nonprofit says it hosts up to 30 vendors with items including “high quality, local, and sustainable produce, dairy, meat and handmade goods.” The market also accepts SNAP/EBT benefits.
The Mills River Farmers’ Market is at Mills River Elementary School, 94 School House Road, Mills River. Hours are 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays May through October. For more information, visit avl.mx/2ct.