The Community Table serves dinner on Mondays and lunch on Wednesdays and Fridays. Volunteers take orders, serve and clean up. (Jacobsen photo)

By Teddy Jacobsen

The sound of chatter gets louder in the lower level of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association building on a recent Monday evening as area residents and families gather in the entryway. Moments later, the clanking of silverware and laughter complete the sound track as people share a meal.

The Community Table for the Rockbridge Area provides three meals a week to anyone who wants or needs fresh, hot food. Volunteers staff the dining room, taking orders, serving food, and washing dishes.

David Faulds, the executive chef and kitchen manager, said the operation allows attendees to enjoy a restaurant-style meal.

“I try to give people the chance to try a little taste of life, free from worries,” he said.

Dinners are offered on Monday evenings, and lunch is served Wednesday and Friday. The meals are free—and people are free to donate what they can if they can. Volunteer Coordinator Erica Turman said most people pay a little something every time they show up for a meal.

The Community Table has been a fixture in Rockbridge County since 2012. It’s been so successful—serving 8,500 meals last year—that its board of directors is exploring plans to expand its services to neighboring towns.

Turman said the Community Table’s board reached an agreement with the Rockbridge Area Transportation System late last year. The transportation organization would provide a ride for residents of Buena Vista and Goshen to the Community Table’s dining room on Spotswood Drive in Lexington.

“We want to expand our offerings across the county so that everybody feels like they’re a part of the table,” Turman said.

She said she expects the plan to go into effect in the coming months.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the Community Table to a halt in 2020. The nonprofit relied on take-out meals until last September. In 2021, the group provided 3,400 take-out meals. Last fall, the organization resumed in-person dining but still offered take-out meals.

Faulds said better access to transportation or satellite locations would bring in more people who lack the time or resources to make the trip to Lexington on days when meals are given out.

Faulds, who has worked at the Community Table on and off for 11 years, said he prides himself on using fresh, healthy food. But since the pandemic, he said, it’s gotten harder to find quality food. He blames the national truck driver shortage and higher food prices.

A Community Table employee serves mashed potatoes and green beans on plates. The executive chef and kitchen manager David Faulds sources the food himself and tries to buy locally as much as he can. (Jacobsen photo)

In 2021, the American Trucking Associations reported a shortage of 80,000 drivers. That number is projected to double by 2030. Faulds said truckers are traveling fewer routes, and Lexington, a small, rural city, is not a stop on many of them.

Inflation is still an issue nationally. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts a slower increase in food prices in 2023, 7% compared to 10% in 2022. But prices are still high.

Faulds said contributions of surplus food from Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute help relieve some of the strain. Campus Kitchen at W&L also provides some of the take-out meals that the Community Table gives to people in need.

Turman said the Community Table cannot serve three meals each week without the help of the community, especially its volunteers and donors.

“At the Community Table, people from the same community but different walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds can come to enjoy a meal together,” she said.

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