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The Power of the Community Table and Eating with Others

New! The Community Table, a dedicated space where strangers become friends, comes to the Walla Walla Senior Center dining hours beginning Monday, February 5th. Read on to learn about this exciting new initiative.


The Walla Walla Senior Center Community Table was first conceived when Jane Kaminsky, the Nutrition Program director, was attending one of our fundraiser dinners last year.  


She noticed a man come in and sit alone. “He left his house that night to come to the Waffle Feed by himself. He came in and he got his waffle and he went and sat at a table alone.” All around him were groups of people laughing and chatting.


“It really grabbed my attention,” she goes on, “this man had chosen to come have a strawberry waffle instead of eat alone at home and yet he was eating alone at the Senior Center.” Jane happened to be leaving at that point, so she asked another participant to go sit with him. The next day, she heard that they had had a great conversation. 


“I have noticed over the years I have worked here that there are some people who come in and are very social, beep-bopping from table to table, enjoying lots of socialization, etc., but I have also noticed that there are people or even couples that come in alone that are more reserved but that would also like someone to visit with.”


There are different personality types: the ones that feel comfortable going up to strangers and asking if they can join, and the ones that don’t. Jane explains that many people don’t know how to go about approaching a stranger. It can be scary! 


We believe that people would come together if we could create the right structure and the right context for that to happen in, hence the creation of our very own Community Table.


Walla Walla Senior Center Community Table graphic

Of course, community tables exist across the world - we didn’t invent this. But we are taking other models we have seen and molding it to fit our center.


What we have designed allows people to connect with others who are interested in meeting new people while allowing those who wish to eat alone to do so, too. Sometimes you don’t know if someone wants company or not. The Community Table makes it clear that you are open to conversation.


“Socialization is part of our mission,” Jane explains. “Many of our participants live alone and don’t have someone to talk to during the day. Coming out to lunch might be the only time they have to visit with someone.”


As it turns out, having consistent social connection is vital to our well-being. In fact, a recent study found that loneliness is as detrimental as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s very important to us to help people be as social as they want to be at our center.


Science shows that happiness stems from our connections with others. However, many of us can feel antisocial at times. It’s too easy to just go sit by yourself in the dining room. Sometimes, we need a little encouragement to start up a conversation with someone.


There’s tons of research that shows that eating with others nourishes us beyond the food we are consuming.


Explanation of Community Table and what participants will read when they sit.

To help get the Community Table going, Jane has asked some willing participants to act as “ambassadors” who, when they see that someone goes to sit at the Community Table, will go and sit with them so no one will find themself alone there. 


“This table is a starting point. Next time, they may see each other in line and say hi. The next week, they may decide to meet at noon in the dining room, or whatever it may be.” As the saying goes, “Sit as Strangers, Leave as Friends.” It may sound cheesy, but it’s true!


The Community Table benefits everyone because you may develop a friendship with someone you otherwise would never think to approach.


So, we urge you to give the Community Table a try the next time you come in for a meal, regardless if it’s your first day or your 100th. You never know, you might end up with a new friend for life, you may learn about something you have never heard of, or you may get to share something about yourself that you never would have been able to if you had not been courageous enough to sit at the Community Table. Together, we can bring people together and deepen relationships.


If you would like to become a Community Table ambassador, please speak to Jane.


Friends eating together

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