ORANGE PARK – Clay County’s first Longest Table dinner will happen later this month, and it hopes to bring together business leaders, public officials and residents together for a meal celebrating the community.
Longest Tables aren’t new. They happen in Jacksonville a few times a year and many communities hold them every weekend as a way to bring people together. Orange Park Mayor Connie Thomas is excited about the town’s efforts to hold its Longest Table along Kingsley East Avenue on Feb. 22.
“It’s going to be a beautiful evening and I hope everyone in Clay County joins us,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the idea came from the fact that gathering the community into one place is extremely intentional these days. It used to happen on its own, she said, but now requires some sort of reason or topic of discussion.
“Why can’t people get together just because?” Thomas said.
Thomas hopes this month’s gathering re-establishes the idea of community amongst its participants. The concept is simple: tables are strung together in single-line to create a single extremely long table. People fill the seats, and everyone enjoys a meal together.
“We used to have parades that went down [U.S. Highway 17] and people would come to Orange Park and gather, and we can’t do that anymore,” Thomas said. “We thought, ‘What could we do to gather community?’ and we heard of the Longest Table. We thought it’d be a beautiful thing not only to bring the community but to celebrate Kingsley East.”
The event will be held on Kingsley East between Astor Street and the St. Johns River. This area has a special meaning for the town because it’s where ferries would dock on the river.
“It was like the entrance to Orange Park,” Thomas said.
People can bring their own meal, or they can purchase it from Urban Bean or Moosehaven, both of which are catering food at the event. Thomas said it was important for local businesses and organizations to get involved. Beyond Urban Bean and Moosehaven, the youth group from Grace Episcopal Church will be selling drinks, the Grace Episcopal Day School will set up tables designated for just children, although children can sit with adults, too. And the Orange Park Woman’s Club will be selling desserts.
“It’ll be a first for our town and a first for our county,” Thomas said. “Anybody is welcome at this table.”
The event will start at 6 p.m. It’s free to sit at a table but meals and drinks will be sold separately. For those not wishing to pay, you can bring your own food and drink. Thomas said you can reserve a seat on the town’s website or Facebook page, and she encourages everyone to do so before the event.