Nelsonville Organization Brings Community To The Dinner Table< < Back to
NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) — Dottie Fromal first had the idea for the Thursday Night Community Dinner when she was working at the Hive, a childcare center in Nelsonville.
She met many children there who ate dinner alone each night, and decided they needed more human contact. To that end, she and her close friend Lori Crook started organizing meals for the kids each Thursday.
From there, it grew beyond what either could have expected.
Seated near jars of fruit preserves and donated produce last Thursday, Fromal recalled the dinner’s evolution.
“Suddenly, we had mothers and fathers and grandparents and aunts and uncles joining us,” she said. “And then the children were inviting their neighbors, and soon it was a community dinner.
“We realized that people were coming early and staying late, not because the food was so wonderful, although we try and do our best. It was because of their sense of feeling welcomed and that sense of community where they could talk to one another and not be rushed out.”
Today, the Community Dinner is a fully-fledged organization built around five values: radical love, radical kindness, radical compassion, radical acceptance, and radical hospitality. Recently, the Community Dinner also began publishing its own newsletter called Radical Times. Fromal said they use the word “radical” in its traditional meaning, to denote the root of something. Both names — Radical Times Nelsonville and the Thursday Night Community Dinner — are displayed together on a sign above the front window.
The success of such a project in Nelsonville may surprise some onlookers. However, residents say it meets an important need in the community and is part of a larger trend in the town.
“Nelsonville is definitely on the rise,” said Bill L’Heureux. “We’ve got a lot of really good things happening for us. We’ve got a lot of new businesses coming in.”
L’Heureux is the general manager of L’Heureux Properties in Nelsonville and a resident of the town. When the Community Dinner was unexpectedly forced to leave by its previous landlord, he stepped in to offer it a new place.
“It doesn’t ask questions, it doesn’t differentiate between the people who need and the people who don’t need or ask what their situation is,” L’Heureux explained. “It brings together a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have time to, or the wherewithal to, break bread with other people and find common ground, make connections for the betterment of the community.”
The ribbon-cutting for the Community Dinner’s new space occurred last Thursday. Roughly 30 residents gathered around Fromal and a handful of other speakers for a ceremony that included speeches and a brief prayer. Then, everyone headed across the street, where a barbecue and several tables had been set up with hamburgers, chips and salsa, pasta salad and fruit. A group of volunteers lined up to help plate the food, while musicians played from a nearby stage.
In the midst of the crowd was Amanda Decker. A lifelong resident of Nelsonville, Decker says that for a long time she felt the community had become less welcoming of people from lower-income backgrounds. For a long time, she withdrew into herself, until her children convinced her to attend one of the early dinners. Today, she’s a fixture.
“I have to say, you know, Dottie and Lori, they’re kinda like a wildfire when it comes to spreading their love and compassion,” she said. “I kinda, I guess, lost my spark before I met them. … That’s why I tried to stay at home, but you know when I was welcomed with open arms, you saw me get out more, and I was a lot happier.”
In the future, Fromal hopes to turn the Community Dinner’s new space into a pay-what-you-wish restaurant. She also plans on making Radical Times a weekly publication as soon as things settle down from the move.
Nelsonville has already given her more than she feels she can ever repay. Fromal only moved to the town five years ago, but she quickly formed close friendships. Then came what she calls “a miracle”: Through her new connections, she met a surgeon who was able to restore her eyesight, which was rapidly deteriorating due to a birth condition.
Crook, Fromal’s close friend and fellow dinner organizer, wiped tears from her eyes as she listened to Fromal tell the story.
The surgery “just gave me a whole new lease on life,” Fromal recalled. “I felt like it was a gift I wasn’t expecting to get and I could never repay it. I could spend the rest of my life trying to do good and not repay that gift.”