Damron’s offers free meals to the hungry
Three years ago Tullahoma resident Jennifer Ray felt compelled to give back to her community. As life passed by, Ray continued to revisit that feeling in her gut that kept urging her give back in a bigger way. After three years of the idea burning in the back of her mind, Ray took a leap of faith and put her idea into action.
Ray is a middle school teacher, and she couldn’t help but notice the number of hungry kids in the school system. Ray knew that she needed to do something about this. As ideas began to run through her head, she called upon a friend to discuss the issue at hand.
“About three years ago I was having dinner with my friend, Sonya Brown,” Ray said. “I knew I had a desire to make a difference in the community, and because of the line of work I was in, I knew there was a need in the community for what I wanted to do. Sonya and I shared this joint desire and started running ideas about what we could do.”
As life sometimes catches up to us, Ray found herself tied up in other obligations like raising her children and staying busy at work. However, no matter how busy Ray found herself, she still hadn’t forgotten about feeding the hungry in the community.
With the idea in her mind, Ray began thinking about ways that she could put her plan into action. She had recently saw a video on Facebook where a restaurant would serve as a soup kitchen. The restaurant’s staff cooks hot meals, and all those who came to eat were only asked to pay what they could. This began to foster thought in Ray about her initial idea.
However, finding a restaurant that would serve people for near next to nothing was a daunting task, but then Ray found Damron’s.
“We first talked to Gloria last spring, and we shared the dream we had with her,” said Ray. “She thought that the idea sounded great and she was willing to help us get started. We revisited her in November and launched our Facebook page, Come to the Table.”
Gloria Damron is the owner of Damron’s restaurant, 714 East Lincoln St. in Tullahoma. The small family restaurant serves breakfast and lunch plates along with several other options. The restaurant opened in 2001 and has been serving the community ever since.
“Jennifer came to me with her idea, and I knew it was a great need in the community,” said Damron. “Not only is it a need in Tullahoma, but it’s also a need in the surrounding counties.”
After three years of thinking and planning, Come to the Table officially began serving hungry citizens in the community with a free hot meal on Jan. 29. Any hungry community member can come to Damron’s from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and receive a meal free of charge.
At Come to the Table’s first offering in January, Damron’s served 18 people. As word caught on, the attendance grew. On Feb. 12, Damron’s served 121 people. Ray said a quarter to half of those people were children.
“We’ve noticed a pattern in who comes,” added Ray. “Each week we see a lot of children. Most of which come alone. Some are here every week. We sit down with the kids, and we talk with them. We learn their story, get to know them and give them a good meal.”
In addition to serving hot meals, Damron’s is also providing coloring and Bible study for the kids.
“It’s such an awesome feeling,” commented Damron and Ray. “We love seeing our outreach and the services we’re providing for the community is humbling.”
However, its takes a community to feed a community. Damron said that every meal comes at a cost of approximately $4. With 121 people at their last supper, the total expense to feed everyone who came through the doors was approximately $500.
Many individuals, local small businesses and corporations, churches and clubs have made donations and sponsorships that help Come to the Table continue its mission. It’s through the generous sponsorships and donations from the community that meals are able to be provided.
Each Tuesday approximately 20 volunteers help serve, refill drinks and perform other duties that help support the efforts of Ray and Damron. Ray said serving the guests makes the experience more personal and allows them to make meaningful connections.
“I had a young gentleman that came to volunteer one night, and I’ll never forget what he said to me,” said Ray. “He said that it made him so happy to be able to give back to his community. I just remember how blessed I felt, and how I was able to return my blessings by giving back to the community.”
“When the community comes together, it makes such a big difference,” Damron added.
Because the efforts of Come to the Table are volunteer based, Ray stressed the importance of coming together to make a big difference. Come to the Table has even had volunteers from other states lend a hand as well.
“We had a lady come to volunteer who was all the way from Philadelphia,” Ray said. “She was in Tullahoma on a business trip and had heard about us. So she came to volunteer.”
Ray added that Come to the Table is one facet of a larger dream. While they are currently serving meals on one night a week, Ray wants to expand her vision to impact and influence the youth of the community. She is hoping to eventually begin a mentoring program with other ministries or outreach programs.
Come to the Table would not be possible without the efforts of those willing to donate their time to volunteering or by sponsorships and donations. There are several ways to pitch in towards the cause.
For more information on volunteering, sponsoring or donating, contact Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a sign-up sheet for volunteers on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/feedtullahoma.
Come to the Table serves meals from 5-6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at Damron’s Restaurant. For more information, call 931-454-0010.