Food means community so I was 100% game for hosting a community dinner in our small town! Here’s what I learned on how to organize a community meal.
Why I Hosted a Community Dinner
Hosting a community dinner had been on my mind for a few years. Sometimes, those ideas follow you around until you actually do what you’re thinking of.
What can I say, my parents raised me to think big and that nothing was impossible!
We live in the town of Waterman, Illinois. Last time I checked, the population was around 1400 people. We do have a traffic light and even though our town is small, it’s full of heart and wonderful people.
Unlike some of the surrounding, larger towns, people, not corporations or park districts are the ones who make a lot of things tick around here.
And so, I thought…wouldn’t it be awesome to have the community come together for dinner?
I connect with so many people on my blog across the country. What I really wanted to do was connect with people locally and share why I believe family dinnertime is so important!
In fact, sharing family dinners has proven to provide kids with higher self esteem, a lower risk of depression and substance abuse and greater sense of resilience.
I got in touch with the Family Dinner Project and they provided me with some information, a timeline, and advice.
And so, the idea was hatched and a general outline was in place.
But, I needed a sidekick. I knew I couldn’t pull this off on my own.
Then I did what any normal crazy person would do. I sent a private message to a gal named Katie, who also lived in Waterman. I didn’t know her well, but I had met her a few times and really liked her.
After a random message along the lines of, “Hi, this is Deanne and I would like to host a community dinner. Would you like to help me with this?” Pretty crazy, huh?
Without asking any other questions, she replied, “Yes!”
Community Dinner Menu
Anyone who knows me knows I freaking LOVE tacos. Tacos are my love language. I mean, I have an entire blog post dedicated to How to Plan A Taco Party. I even made a fiesta themed taco party checklist.
And so, it really only took me less than a minute to decide on the menu. You guessed it, tacos!
Planning a Community Dinner
Much of the valuable information from the Family Dinner Project is for non-profits to host a dinner.
Katie and I – well, we’re just two women with a big vision. So here are the steps we took that are a little outside the box, but worked well for our dinner.
We needed funding to pay for the event. We wanted it to be free for those who wanted to attend. Katie did an awesome job talking with local businesses who were generously gave donations to our cause.
We secured a building by renting the local shelter at Lion’s Park. It was equipped with electricity, tables and chairs, a stove, refrigerators/freezers and sinks.
While I normally would whip out my homemade taco seasoning and get cooking, to our county health department had Katie and I whipping up Plan B.
Why Plan B?
Well, if we made the food from scratch then commercial kitchens came into play. I 100% have a can-do attitude, but we also have six kids between the two of us and spending an entire day prepping food wasn’t really an option.
So after meeting with their representative we determined it was much easier to purchase ready to heat food from a vendor, GFS.
We were, however, able to have baked goods brought in for dessert by attendees.
A one day food permit was also required by the county and they would be by the day of the event to make sure the food was safe for consumption.
Supplies were purchased such as plates and napkins, table coverings, food gloves for serving and of course, food!
We did ask for voluntary food contributions sealed in packages like shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa.
We thought this was a fun addition in the spirit of community!
We printed handouts about the importance of gathering around the table.
We also had conversation starters at each table and an icebreaker game of bingo to get everyone comfortable.
I spoke briefly about the importance of family dinnertime. Then, it was taco time!
What I Learned in Planning Our Community Dinner
I’m not gonna lie, I was drop dead tired after the dinner was over and we had picked up, cleaned up, and shut the doors to the building.
But really, I tell you about my sheer exhaustion not to discourage you. In fact, I believe the reason I was so tired was because I cared so freaking much that it be a positive experience for everyone in attendance!
I wanted the food to be great (of course! I wanted to do right by the Family Dinner Project. I wanted conversations to flow and community members to mingle.
Looking back on it, I had a lot of pressure I placed on myself.
But truly, in my opinion the community dinner was a success by every stretch of the imagination.
I never, EVER would have been able to pull it off without my friend Katie. Not only is she energetic and resourceful, she shares the same vision and dream as me.
And I gained a wonderful new friend in the process.
When you put two people together in the spirit of community and positivity, wonderful things happen, friends!
Future Plans and Resources
We have enough funding to plan another community dinner this winter. We’ll be doing a menu of soup for the next one.
I can’t wait to gather with more people and get to know them better!
I hope you’ll think about pulling your community together to share the breaking of bread. It will benefit your town, it will benefit you.
If you have questions, I’m here!. Also, consider the Family Dinner Project for wonderful ideas, recipes and information.