Food has an amazing ability to invoke memories and feelings.

It’s as if food makes time slow down for a little while. People who share a meal will not only remember the food they ate; they’ll remember how they felt sitting there. They’ll remember the conversation and mood at the table.

That’s why Project Host is holding its first citywide potluck, Gratefull GVL, Nov. 25.

Tobin Simpson is the director of culinary operations at Project Host. Photo provided.

Organizers hope the event, which encourages strangers and friends to gather and share a potluck meal at one long table, will inspire conversations and encourage people to get to know each other during a Thanksgiving meal together.

“We use food to bring people together to take care of them, to show them that they’re cared about and that they’re loved,” said Tobin Simpson, Project Host’s director of culinary operations.

He said the Gratefull GVL potluck — a food-based event — is a good fit for Project Host, which is a food-based nonprofit organization.

Gratefull events

Gratefull began in Chattanooga, Tennessee, under the social innovation nonprofit Causeway. The citywide event is held annually the Monday before Thanksgiving. Gratefull Chattanooga takes up an entire block of MLK Boulevard where guests congregate in the middle of the street at one long table.

The Gratefull Chattanooga event is held the Monday before Thanksgiving each year. Photo provided.

In Greenville, Project Host is shutting down the bridge on South Main Street for anyone and everyone to share a meal together. Simpson said he expects about 2,000 people to attend Gratefull GVL, based on the interest he’s seen on social media. Simpson said Gratefull Chattanooga offered helpful literature that offers guidelines and logistics solutions for hosting such a large event.

Bridging the gap

Establishing a new event in Greenville comes with its challenges. Simpson said one of these is making sure the event is as inclusive as possible.

“Obviously, we feel like being in downtown Greenville is going to be the right area for us,” Simpson said. “We’re looking at the bridge over the Reedy River and that kind of symbolizes a bridge between communities. We want everybody to be represented at the table, everybody from different socioeconomic backgrounds who come together. We don’t need it to be just another downtown business executives lunch. We want to make sure everybody’s at the table who needs to be there.”

Gratefull GVL will be held on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 25. Photo provided.

In order to serve the widest possible range of people, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System and GreenLink will partner to provide free transportation to and from the event. Simpson said he hopes Gratefull GVL will inspire thoughtful dialogue among people who otherwise would possibly never meet.

“Hopefully it will spark meaningful conversation and then that conversation, in turn, will lead to change,” Simpson said.

You can go

  • What: Gratefull Greenville
  • When: 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Nov. 25, on the bridge on the 400 block of South Main Street.
  • Cost: Free and open to the general public.
  • Want to help: Contribute a dish, volunteer or be a sponsor. Find out more at https://projecthost.squarespace.com/grateful-gvl.

Since 1981, Project Host has been addressing food insecurity in Greenville

Although Project Host is holding its first-ever potluck this year, the organization has plenty of experience in other public events such as barbecue fundraising and chili competitions.

Project Host began as a soup kitchen in 1981, and has since expanded to offer other services to address hunger and food insecurity in Greenville.

“The soup kitchen provides meals to not just the homeless population,” said Tobin Simpson, Project Host’s director of culinary operations. “We’re looking at the working poor across the street. We have individuals with mental health issues, people who struggle with addiction. So we provide the necessary service to those who are possibly at some of the lowest points in their lives.”

Project Host is located at 525 S. Academy St. in Greenville. Photo provided.

Simpson said Project Host’s board of directors asked how the organization could expand from a soup kitchen that closed at 1 p.m. to a more impactful service. In response, the kitchen evolved into a culinary school that provided a six-week job-skills training program to provide job skills for unemployed and underemployed people.

“Then we grew outside of the culinary school,” he said. “Typically for our students there’s a barrier to employment; there’s a reason why they’re coming to us to get this training. In six weeks you barely scratched the surface to some of those barriers. You definitely aren’t getting to the point where you’re discussing ways to overcome these barriers. So we once again branched out and now we have a food truck and a bakery.”

Project Host’s mobile food truck. Photo provided.

These resources offer paid internship programs for qualifying graduates of Project Host’s culinary school. Graduates earn a living wage while in the program in order to gain structure, reinforce culinary school techniques and retain their support system at Project Host, Simpson said.

According to its website, the organization also offers a feeding program for local after-school sites, a pay-it-forward mobile food truck outreach program and an on-site garden that contributes fresh produce to its programs.

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