‘Labor of love’: Black Mountain Open Table serves those in need
Nourishment and fellowship are at the forefront of Open Table, according to Patti Pyle.
Pyle began volunteering with Open Table in Black Mountain in 2018 after answering a posting in her Black Mountain Presbyterian Church’s newsletter.
She said the credit for creating Open Table in Black Mountain should be given to Joan Brown.
“Even in her 80s, she was the first one there in the parking lot before the door was even unlocked,” Pyle said. “She was the one who made sure we had candy on the tables and centerpieces.”
While Pyle said Brown is no longer able to volunteer, Open Table would not exist without Brown.
In 2008, Brown organized churches and volunteers to create a similar service to what was happening in Swannanoa with Welcome Table, started five years earlier.
The goal of both organizations was and is to provide a free hot meal to anyone who needs it or comes in, no questions asked.
Though Welcome Table has now closed, Open Table continues its legacy.
Today, Open Table serves meals to around 50 guests at Black Mountain United Methodist Church. With takeout meals, the number of meals served is closer to 80 each week.
Open Table began serving to-go meals during the pandemic, once it reopened after nearly a year of closure.
In March 2020, Open Table was forced to shut down because of COVID-19 regulations. It reopened serving only to-go meals in February 2021. In June of that year, it was able to fully reopen for in-person dining.
The volunteer staff of Open Table was also affected by COVID-19. Many volunteers either aged out of volunteering or could not or did not want to return with the continued risk of COVID-19. Pyle said there is now a core group of eight volunteers.
“It’s just a really good team of people, very dedicated,” Pyle said. “We have people who come early to help cook and then we have people who come in the middle of the shift to serve and people who stay or come in later to clean up. … It’s a labor of love for sure.”
Pyle said Open Table would not be possible without the support of the churches and volunteers.
Though the lunches are served at Black Mountain United Methodist Church, the volunteers come from several other denominations.
The churches, like Black Mountain Presbyterian, Black Mountain United Methodist, Montreat Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist, also provide financial support to the program. Private donors also help make the free meals possible.
In order for Open Table or any program like it to operate, the organization needs someone who is a certified ServSafe food manager. Pyle fills this position for Open Table.
Open Table works with food partners like Food Connection and MANNA Food Bank. Pyle said these organizations are able to rescue food and gather donated food to give to organizations like Open Table. Volunteers like Pyle are able to create menus based on the food they receive from these partners.
Each Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Open Table serves its free meal, which Pyle said is always balanced with a protein, starch and vegetable. Desserts, hot coffee and sweet tea are also provided.
Pyle said she and the other volunteers look forward to making the meal happen every week.
“It’s a good group and we’re all very dedicated,” Pyle said. “For most of us, our whole week revolves around Wednesday mornings when we are together serving at Open Table. I know it’s the high point of my week.”