What’s the thinking behind the Covered Dish Supper by Tom Kohler

Our Thinking Behind Our Covered Dish Supper Annual Meeting


We are gearing up for our May 10th Covered Dish Supper and Annual Meeting. That means getting a lot of moving parts moving in the right direction. Event chair Moncello Stewart and Board Member and Treasurer Kate Rea have taken the lead there, and we are thankful! We are fortunate to have Wade Herring returning as our Master of Ceremonies.


I wanted to take a moment and talk about some of the strategy behind the event, the ethos of it so to speak…This will be stream of consciousness so hold on… 


We first held our Annual Meetings in restaurants as banquets. We did what we had seen other organizations do. We held it at the Blue Dolphin Restaurant on Mall Boulevard (for you Savannah historians) and had a head table on a platform and had Charlie Brooks, Chair of the Chatham County Commission, sitting at the head table with our board chair. The room was predictable – tablecloths, silver ware, glasses, all the same. Very official… and very much sending the signal that things need to be uniform, and tidy and there is one way to do things… Hmm, not what we are trying to bring into the world…


We gradually realized that we were unconsciously promoting a way of looking at the world that we were trying to challenge and change – the “important” people up front, everybody else down in the cheap seats. Not exactly a model of “intentional egalitarianism” that we were creating by asking people who come from very different social statuses in life to find common ground and common purpose by forming a voluntary relationship. We also realized that the pricing ($15) excluded people (Remember, it was 1978(.


We shifted to First Presbyterian Church to a covered dish supper, and attendance started climbing. We kept doing head table thing a couple of years, and then realized that we didn’t have to (old habits die hard) and got rid of that, and went to a single music stand with a microphone in the center of the room, almost like doing theatre in the round. It took a couple of years to come up with the every table is different and decorated by someone different. The message here is that “things don’t have to be the same to be beautiful” and that “everyone has a gift to give.” Same with people bringing food as a covered dish… food from home, home cooked, from the heart,  not corporate. Through the years we have fended off ideas like “get restaurants to donate food” — for many reasons. We don’t hear it much any more, as the spirit of the covered dish has become central to the event. 


First Presbyterian was our home for many years, until we outgrew it. We moved to the Hellenic Center for our 30th anniversary event – with Kristin Russell chairing and turbocharging it. We packed the gym, the food was spectacular, as were the stories and we had a band and a dance afterwards… It rocked.


We’ve been at Savannah Station for many years now and between 300 and 400 people turn out to celebrate one another with us. I am going to list a few things that we do, and why we do them… and hope that this is of interest. 


The social is a way to help people well, be social… thanks to the band SOAP, and many of our musician friends for making it so much fun.


The “Come On Up Community Choir” is a way to say “you don’t have to be an expert to sing” — it’s a way to “build a bigger we.” We especially thank Mike English, Rigel Crockett, Soap, Mae Ola Mason and Jessica Feucht for their leadership in the “Come on Up Community Choir!”


Wade Herring comments on “the important people” being everyone in the room… (no intros of elected officials etc)


No fundraising – Citizen Advocacy is by design based in the “gift economy” – what can and will people do for and with one another without being paid. Increasingly people with disabilities are seen and treated as commodities. 


A place of plenty – the decorations are over the top, the food is over the top, the mix of people is over the top, the quality of the MC is over the top, the music is over the top… it is a place of plenty, brought into being my many…


There’s more but you get the idea…we have tried, over a period of years, to create a space that honors and enlivens our mission and our values… As you attend banquets or annual meetings with other organizations you might ask yourself, “How does this event express the values of the organization? What is this event telling me about how this organization looks at the world?” 


Many years ago Margaret Minis said, “this is what I think heaven might look like” – since then we have heard that comment many times over… and the idea of a Beloved Community rings as well: “The Beloved Community is not a utopia but a place where the barriers between people gradually come down and where citizens make a constant effort to address even the most difficult problems of ordinary people. It is above all else and idealistic community.” — Rev. Jim Lawson (who Dicky Stone, Kristin Russell, Robert Cohen, Enoch Hendry and a few other local people had the pleasure of going to meet at the 50 Anniversary gathering of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) 


Thanks for reading! Welcome all thoughts… Tom

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