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Bemidji’s Community Tables are back and open to everyone

After two years of providing dinners to go, Bemidji’s Community Tables is welcoming people back to their in-person meals.

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Bemidji State softball player Abby Kessel fixes a plate at a Community Table event on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at Mt. Zion Church.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — There’s something special about serving meals to people face-to-face, and for both the volunteers and patrons at Bemidji’s Community Tables, it’s good to be back.

After over two years of serving meals to go because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has finally returned in person, serving dinners Monday through Thursday each week to everyone who walks in the door.

“With COVID it just made it completely different, there was no face-to-face,” said Roy Blackwood, who’s volunteered with Community Tables since he first moved to Bemidji in the 1980s.

Blackwood shared that it sometimes felt discouraging to not be able to invite people inside and share a meal with them.

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Roy Blackwood prepares for dinner at a Community Table event on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at Mt. Zion Church.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“Sometimes it felt just really, really sad,” Blackwood shared. “This is better all the way around.”
Officially resuming on Nov. 7, attendance at the meals has been steadily increasing. The first night saw just 19 people, but as the week continued that increased to 39. As word gets out that Community Tables is back, organizers hope that number will continue to rise.

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“You see people over and over, and you get to know their names,” shared Laurie Buehler, the chair and head cook of Community Tables. “That’s been one of the nice things about coming back in person.”

As the cook, Buehler also appreciates the ability to receive feedback and see what people enjoy eating the most.

“This way you see what people eat and what they enjoy, you hear them say 'thank you,'” Buehler shared. “It’s really good.”

Everyone is welcome at Community Tables, regardless of their level of need. Buehler explained that all types of people attend, from seniors who enjoy the chance to socialize to busy families that appreciate the break from cooking.

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Laurie Buehler washes dishes after cooking dinner at a Community Table event on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at Mt. Zion Church.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“Anybody that would like to come eat here is welcome. You don’t have to be homeless, it also doesn’t matter if you are. We’ll welcome you regardless,” Blackwood said.

While Community Tables does serve a need in Bemidji by providing hot meals to those who might not otherwise be able to get one, that isn’t its only purpose. The dream for Buehler is for it to truly become a community meal.

“We’ve tried to expand beyond the idea (of a soup kitchen). We’ve said this is an open table concept,” Buehler explained.

Blackwood expanded on this point, adding that for those who do need the meal it’s very encouraging to have those who might be better off also attend. This helps bridge the gap between different people and forge a genuine sense of community.

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“It’s really meaningful for the people who do need it if well-off people join,” Blackwood explained. “We get some, but a lot of people are just uncomfortable with doing that.”

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Gloria Skinner enjoys a meal and comaraderie at a Community Table event on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at Mt. Zion Church.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

The community meals are held every Monday and Tuesday at Mt. Zion Church in Bemidji. On Wednesday and Thursday meals are served at United Methodist Church. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the meal is served from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Any organization, group or individual interested in volunteering can visit the Community Tables website for more information and to sign up.

“It’s a community table, it’s for everybody,” Blackwood said. “Giving dinners to people is incredibly meaningful.”

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Bemidji State softball player Aimee Christenson fixes a salad at a Community Table event on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, at Mt. Zion Church.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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