Student works to promote awareness of local organization

W&L senior encourages students to volunteer with The Community Table of Rockbridge County

Sutton Travis

At The Community Table, people who come as strangers leave as friends. It is the place where differences are set aside over conversation and a hot meal.

Located in the Rockbridge Area Relief Association building, The Community Table is an organization that seeks to relieve hunger of those in Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County.

Emerson Scheinuk, ‘17, first heard of The Community Table this past fall. He was assigned the organization as a service component in the “Food for Thought” course, taught by Assistant Professor of Biology Sarah Blythe.

Scheinuk started volunteering at TCT and made it his goal to increase students’ awareness of the volunteering opportunities with the organization.

“The options are almost endless for how you can get involved with Community Table,” Scheinuk said. “The Community Table is really unique, because you just don’t stop, and you don’t get bored while you’re volunteering there.”

At the conclusion of his class, Scheinuk wrote an advocacy statement for TCT that emphasized “the family-like atmosphere of the staff” and the organization’s “holistic approach” to “helping a wide array of the community.”

Scheinuk’s observations align with TCT President Vickie Hickman’s vision for the program.

“Unfortunately, in Lexington, we have people who are hungry,” Hickman said. “And for several different reasons, whether they’ve lost a job or are just down on their luck, we want to be able to serve them a good hot meal and give them the opportunity to socialize and feel comfortable and valued as a person.”

Hickman likes to call TCT “the restaurant without a cash register.”

On Monday nights, the restaurant is open for any community member. Volunteers serve a multi-course meal—complete with salads, soups and desserts. The only mention or sign of payment is a small wooden donation box beside the exit door.

“We do talk about ‘take what you need, give what you can,’” Hickman said. “And that’s all we promote. Everyone feels welcome.”

The sense of appreciation extends to the volunteers, too. Scheinuk noted that sometimes working in the service industry can seem stressful and demanding, but that is never the case for the volunteers at TCT.

“All of the people who come to eat at The Community Table from the community are honestly pretty pleasant,” Scheinuk said. “And all of the [TCT] board members, who are usually there during the meals, are super grateful for your service, and they don’t hesitate to tell you that they’re grateful for you.”

Srushti Shardul, 16, is an exchange student at Rockbridge County High School from Nashik, India. Shardul was required to complete 20 hours of community service and chose to volunteer at TCT.

Although Shardul finished her hours in the fall, she still keeps coming back to TCT.

“I don’t need any more hours, but I love this place,” Shardul said.“The people are all really kind-hearted. When we serve the people, they feel really happy.”

There are a variety of tasks volunteers can help with: food preparation, hosting the meal, serving the patrons and cleaning up afterward. TCT also has a lunch shift on Wednesday from 11:30-1 p.m. Hickman estimated that it takes about 50 volunteers to pull each meal together.

“I would love to have more W&L students,” Hickman said. “You’ve got your connections on campus, obviously, but to form that relationship with the community and be able give back to the community that’s giving so much to you – I think it’s important when you can see that full circle.”

Although the course has ended, Scheinuk plans to continue volunteering with TCT. He said he has never felt as welcome at a volunteer site as he does at TCT.

“It doesn’t feel like volunteering or working,” Scheinuk said. “It doesn’t feel difficult; you don’t feel taxed after it. It just feels good to go there.”

Students interested in volunteering with The Community Table can register online at Questions can be directed to Volunteer Coordinator Jill Lund at [email protected].