When you hear the name ‘open table’ a reasonable deduction may come to mind: a reference to a restaurant reservation. But nothing could be further from that truth. Open Table Nashville (OTN) is a non-profit, interfaith community that disrupts cycles of poverty, journeys with the marginalized and provides education about issues of homelessness.
Each call to the organization is handled with courtesy and deserved respect. That alone is monumental for some of the callers who may be down in moral, spirit and overcome with shame.
The organization depends heavily on donations, volunteers, and sponsorships. They handle an array of client needs, depending on what each individual client or family is in need of. It can range from housing and rental assistance to household items and connect the caller with a matching resource.
“I think that bearing witness to someone’s suffering means to give them space to be fully themselves, fully human,” said OTN intern, Sarah Miller. “It means listening to them without judgment and without trying to fix their situation for them.”
Open Table Nashville was founded in 2010 and is an interfaith outreach nonprofit intended to improve the lives of the homeless. Their journey, however, started long before 2010. In the late summer of 2008, OTN’s founders were a ragtag team of homeless outreach workers, ministers, and volunteers who were introduced to Tent City, Nashville’s largest homeless encampment that was located on the banks of the Cumberland River.
Over time, they became friends with the residents, advocated with them for their rights, received hospitality from them, officiated at their weddings and funerals, and realized that a majority of the residents couldn’t stay at traditional shelters because they were couples, pet owners, working non-traditional hours, or struggling with severe mental health issues. OTN helped dozens of Tent City residents move into permanent housing, but as these residents left their tents, others moved in who were trying to survive the country’s Great Recession. In the late spring of 2010, about 140 people and over a dozen cats and dogs called Tent City home.
The OTN story continued and adapted in many ways and times to accommodate the homeless and those in need. That includes warming shelters in the winter for both humans and pets, education and advocacy to the general public, volunteerism for individuals and groups, donations, sponsorships and in-kind giving. OTN invites all to “pull up a seat at the table, to help continue the mission to help the masses.”
“Once a relationship is formed with OTN staff, volunteers or interns, it is a life-changing experience. One where the client is served under their own guidelines and availability, but leave feeling like they’ve connected with family,” said one client.
For more information about Open table Nashville, call (615) 415-0141 or visit their website at www. opentablenashville.org