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Grassroots Wisdom Book

Thursday Night Community Dinners

There is plenty to do, for each one of us, working on our own hearts, changing our own attitudes, in our own neighborhoods. 

~ Dorothy Day

Nelsonville, Ohio is a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southwestern Ohio, USA. There are less than 6,000 residents, which in some global cities might constitute a city block. The point of this story is not necessarily the location, the size of the town or the fact that many folks here love listening to country music. It is the undeniable fact that Nelsonville runs on heart energy. A few years back one of the residents, Dottie Fromal, inspired by the spirit and actions of the founder of the Catholic Workers Movement, Dorothy Day, decided she would start a community dinner.  She enlisted the help of 12 students and together they prepared a basic spaghetti dinner for the community. Word of the dinner spread. Dottie felt it was important that kids should sit down to have a meal with others once a week. The first Thursday about 25 kids came. The second week, the number more than doubled, and, soon it tripled, and before you knew it, kids were bringing parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Thursday nights grew to 350 people. Dinners included people sharing things for which they were thankful: a new tire, good grades, and one grandma announced how grateful she was to have received a new pair of dentures. The dinners started before COVID and continued during the pandemic as meals were carefully prepared and delivered to people's homes. 

Something started to happen in Nelsonville with these dinners. People were more generous and kinder to one another. They learned they liked to sing together after dinner. Sometimes the sheriff would drop by and found himself answering important questions, the governor heard about Nelsonville’s Thursday night dinners and dropped by a few times, helped serve food and even mopped up the floor once.

As the dinners grew more people got involved in providing space, and offered to help pay for the groceries when they saw Dottie in the supermarket picking up food for the next dinner. Thursday nights became times when people raised town issues and sought solutions. When the election board decided to change a polling location that was unreasonably far for most people, the Thursday night group walked the distance, recorded it, and showed their result to the Elections Board who moved the location to a more accessible place.

The moral of the story is that we can all learn a lesson from Nelsonville and become a little more like them. We can share meals, planned or impromptu, exchange books, bring a little something from your garden if you are lucky enough to have one. Remember it is not the location, you could be in a high rise building in Mumbai or in a row of town houses in the Netherlands. It's not the size of the number of people involved, or the type of music shared. It's not hard to be like Nelsonville. You just need one Dottie Fromal to get it started.



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