ORANGE PARK – The town showed Clay County what community is all about last Saturday at its first Longest Table event.
Hundreds of local residents lined dozens of tables for an event meant to spotlight the importance of community and neighborly connections. All of the tables were lined in such a way that at first glance, it appeared it was one extremely long table stretching from one end of Kingsley East to Astor Street. For residents and Orange Park officials, it was a sight to behold.
“This is so thrilling,” Orange Park Mayor Connie Thomas said. “You’ve got strangers and neighbors all gathered here getting to know each other, and it’s awesome to see.”
Thomas hoped before the event that it would bring back the idea of community to Orange Park. She remembers parades that went down U.S. Highway 17 often and other events that brought people out of their homes. She wanted to bring back those feelings.
After seeing hundreds of residents at the Longest Table, Thomas thinks it was a success.
Thomas said it’s a refreshing start of something special in Clay County. She hopes that this Longest Table is the first of many more to come. Thomas, the town council and other town staff helped make the event happen but residents and local businesses and organizations brought it to life.
Moosehaven and the Urban Bean Coffeehouse provided the meals and local organizations like the Orange Park Women’s Club were selling desserts and hot chocolate. OPWC President Jane Bromagen said she was thrilled to be a part of the event.
“We’re all about community so to be a part of this was a no-brainer for us,” Bromagen said.
The OPWC does a lot around the town. One day they brought children’s books to a local laundromat for people to read and it brought activity books to Title 1 schools in the area. Because of OPWC’s work in the community, the money raised by selling desserts to residents at the Longest Table will find its way back into the local economy.
“We strive to do a lot around here,” Bromagen said.
A host as positioned at each table. Thomas said each host had questions to ask the others to strike up a conversation.
“We asked things as simple as why did you come and got some really interesting answers,” table host Winnette Sandlin said.
Sandlin said one couple attended the event to reinfuse themselves within Orange Park. The couple had lived in Middleburg for years after moving away, but now they were ready to move back. Another at the table, a woman said she attended a Longest Table in Jacksonville and enjoyed it so much that she came to Orange Park.
“It really is a wonderful way to meet new people and hear from others in the town,” Sandlin said. “You realize just how important community is and how similar we all are despite our differences.
“It’s about coming together at the end of the day and I think that was absolutely achieved here tonight.”