Two years ago Brittany Ashley had no idea what to expect of the inaugural 1 Table Florence community meal. But she believed enough in the character of the Shoals area to give it a try.

“The whole point is to gather around the table with people from all over Florence,” she said in 2017 before the first event. “There’s no cost, there’s no catch, there’s no agenda. It’s just to bring Florence together and celebrate our community.”

She has not been disappointed.

More than 600 people made their way to Mobile Street in 2017 to participate in the first 1 Table event. Ashley and her co-organizers planned and cooked for 500 people. They were amazed at the turnout and the reception from the overflow crowd that gathered for the free meal.

But the true spirt of the event was on display last year when 450 people braved bitterly cold temperatures on a day that included snow flurries.

“Even in that kind of weather people came out,” she said this week. “It really spoke to how special Florence is.”

Tomorrow, we get to show Ashley and her dedicated group of volunteers just how appreciative we are for their efforts to host an event that is quickly becoming a holiday tradition.

Hopefully, this year’s crowd will shatter that first-year record of 600 hearty participants.

Ashley believes it will – if the weather holds out. There’s a chance for rain, which could force organizers to move the tables that are usually lined up down the length of Mobile Plaza inside the gymnasium at nearby First United Methodist Church.

So rain or shine, there’s really no excuse not to participate in this year’s community meal. The food prepared by Jill Larkin of Jill’s Sweet Memories will fill your stomach, and the chance to mingle with friends and strangers alike will uplift your spirits and get you in the right frame of mind for the upcoming Thanksgiving season.

For Ashley, 1 Table has become her favorite day of the year, and rightfully so.

“I think it’s leaving a mark on people’s hearts and the way they process things,” she said. “It’s really turned into the event that we had envisioned from the start.”

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