Hanging out with the girls at the Welcome Table

Barbara Hootman

The “girls,” the name they have given themselves, meet weekly at the Swannanoa Welcome Table for good food and fellowship.

The Swannanoa Welcome Table prepares a home-cooked lunch every Wednesday and serves it from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The weekly event is a time to see friends, meet neighbors and connect with the community. Homeless people find a welcome seat at the table along with all others who come for the friendship and a hot lunch.

The “girls,” the name Inez Franks gave them, wouldn’t think of missing unless they are really sick or out of town. Sometimes the group numbers eight, sometimes fewer, depending on personal circumstances. Some share the same faith, and others do not, but it doesn’t matter. The friendship and good food are what draws them to the Welcome Table.

Franks was born and reared in the Swannanoa Valley and worked at the Black Mountain Center (now the Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Center) for 38 years.

“We meet here at the Welcome Table every Wednesday and share lunch because we love each other,” she said at a recent lunch. “I’ve been coming for four to five years, and I come for the fellowship. The food is the best in the Valley. We talk about everybody and everything and never say a bad thing about anybody.”

Hazel Burnett from the North Fork area has been sharing the meal with her Wednesday girlfriends for several years.

“We really like one another, and all of us have been through losing our husbands,” she said. “We can talk to each other and know how the other one feels. The food and fellowship are always good. I always look forward to Wednesday lunch.”

Bonnie Monroe, who moved to the area from York, South Carolina, said she enjoys the Swannanoa Welcome Table and can’t imagine Wednesday without it. The girls made her feel at home immediately.

“Although we talk about everyone that we know, we always have a good word for everyone,” she said. “Even if we talk, at our age we don’t remember the gossip. I have made some really good new friends through the Welcome Table.”

Franks said the group doesn’t try to solve the problems of the world because it is useless. Because of illness, Dot McMahan, Pearl Trexler and Thelma Crisp were absent from the group but were remembered in prayer at the start of lunch.

Jackie Kitchen and a crew of volunteers have been preparing the Wednesday meal for the Swannanoa Welcome Table for 11 years.

“I cook for around 100 people every week, and if one person eats at the Welcome Table that otherwise would not have a meal, I have been richly blessed and fulfilled,” Kitchen said. “The majority of the people come not because they are hungry, but because of the fellowship that goes with the meal. I talk to most of them every week and know how important the Wednesday lunch is to them. This is pure pleasure for me.”

Dexter Stikeleather has volunteered for seven years in the kitchen and on the serving line and can’t imagine not being at the Swannanoa Welcome Table on Tuesday to start preparing the meal, and on Wednesday to finish it.

Beth Shultz has assisted in the kitchen for eight years preparing the meal.

“I love volunteering at the welcome table,” she said. “We have good food and good people.”

The Swannanoa Welcome Table, a faith-centered ministry, meets at the Swannanoa United Methodist Church, 216 Whitson Ave., Swannanoa. Phone 686-5284 for more.