“We’re just counting up forks, knives, plates and napkins,” said Cathy Berkey when I asked how she was doing last night, just days before the hugely ambitious The Big Table: The World’s Largest Potluck this Sunday, September 16 at Iroquois Park (5 to 7 p.m.). “Some came from Sodexo Corporate Services, who donated them.”

The event was created by Cathy Berkey and Jud Hendrix when they were having a discussion last year about how politically polarized the country has become. They wondered what they could do to bring people together.

“Last Year, Jud and I, we felt we have major political division going on and so much segregation. Even being in a part of town can separate us,” she said. “People want to connect. We have all these things that isolate us, but people want to be together. The only way we can overcome this polarization is to be together with our differences. This is a space to come together with our differences and yet still find ways to connect.”

The 2017 potluck.

This is the second annual potluck and attempt to break the Guinness world record for the world’s largest potluck. Last year, the record was at 1800 people, and they thought they would surely be able to get about 2,000 people to the park. Guinness updated the record  to 3200 just three weeks before the event, pushing the marker quite a bit higher. The organizers ended up with about 1300 people last year, and this year they are hoping to gather 3500 individuals. Everyone must participate for the same 30 minutes in order to break the record, and that thirty minutes will be from 5:45 to 6:15 p.m.

Everyone who attends must bring a dish to share with at least six people to be counted. That means if a family attends, every member of the family must bring a dish to share even if it’s just six cookies in a bag. Attendees should also bring their own drink and serving utensils for their own dish. Keep in mind that there will be no ice or electricity provided, so dishes will need to remain safe to eat without heating or cooling. Dishes can be prepared foods, fruit, desserts or drinks. It is appreciated if attendees register in advance (to help estimate numbers and plan for table space) at the website, where you can also peruse food safety tips.  

Attendees will sit at tables, which will be set up along the road behind the amphitheater in clusters. Tables will group eight people with four on each side of a food table, and will feature a table host who will lead conversations aimed at connecting people. You’ll be sharing food with 31 others.

“Sitting down and talking to someone face to face with someone who is different or you would see as an other, that’s what makes them real to you,” said Berkey. “ What better way to connect than over food?”

One of the hallmarks is no stage or entertainment. The magic of what is going to happen, happens at the table.  The table host will have story cards to help facilitate conversation to bridge cultures and ideological gaps. Examples include talking about a dish you brought, which the organizers hope might be something that represents you or your heritage. Another conversation starter might be “Tell us how you express your creativity.”

“Last year people brought such amazing food, it was awesome,” she said. “ My husband was in heaven. Someone brought a whole plate of homemade charcuterie. The food is really a metaphor in this whole endeavor. We each bring something unique, and we are all unique in our community. We all belong, and we are all creating the event to be what it is. The same could be said for our community, and we hope that the effect is that we find ourselves more connected and understanding of our neighbors.”