In a friendly conversation between two good neighbors the question was posed, “What can we do to help out our community?” Acknowledging help from above, the neighbors, Ron Thompson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Lee Hammett, a Methodist, decided to act on that question and the idea of a weekly dinner to feed the hungry was born. This idea was taken to their respective faith organizations and it soon became a reality. The Reverend Gay Jeffery (the Methodist minister at that time, since retired) offered up their facilities and the LDS congregations offered up manpower and resources. Other faith groups were contacted and many came together in a spirit of cooperation and unity. Over the years 22 different faith and civic groups have supported the dinners.
It soon became obvious that the Community Dinner Table was about more than just providing food. As the different religions began to join together, walls were broken down and people who had never really interacted before became friends as they worked side by side for a common cause.
“We have a strict rule of no evangelizing, no proselytizing, no trying to convert one another. We have so many more things in common than the few pieces of theology we have that are different from each other. It’s such a relief to sit down with our neighbors and talk about what we have in common and to serve, like Jesus said, to serve the hungry,” said Jeffery.
In addition to feeding the hungry, the dinners also provide a place for those who are lonely, or who are just seeking needed encouragement when things just aren’t going so well. All are welcome and many have found solace at the dinners.
One of the leaders, Ronda Cheatham, from the local Seventh-day Adventist congregation, saw an opportunity and began providing food at the church for the patrons to take home. This idea grew over the years to what is now the Blackfoot Community Pantry with its own building and multiple crews serving food to the hungry each week at 245 W Sexton St, in Blackfoot. The Christmas Food Box Project is an outreach of the pantry. Food boxes are prepared every year just prior to the Christmas holiday and hundreds of families have been given a turkey and enough food for several meals.
Wanting to help patrons learn to help themselves, Jon Lyksett, of the Baha’i faith, developed the concept of a community garden, where people could come and learn from master gardeners how to grow their own vegetables. This became a reality and eventually evolved into a joint partnership with the City of Blackfoot. Jon also originated two fundraising events associated with CDT, the Tator Trot and the Tommy Vaughn’s Marathon and More, both helping fund the Christmas food boxes and Blackfoot Community Pantry.
From its humble beginnings, the Community Dinner Table has become a visible force for good in the community. It has been recognized by the Governor of Idaho, by faith organizations, and by city and county leaders for the significant service that it provides. It has built bridges between religions and has brought a spirit of cooperation to the community. The organization has fed thousands and brought friendship and comfort to many more.
Through it all, many individuals and organizations have stepped forward in their own way to provide funding, in-kind donations, leadership, civic support, and daily acts of service. All have given of themselves in some way, and in the end, all recognize the marvelous hand of God working upon the people of this community. This is His work, we are His children, and we are all in our own way fortunate enough to be a small part of it.