as told to joanna haugen| June 11, 2013 |
Gavan with daughter Avery McClure.
Gina Gavan, shown here at Cowboy Trail Farm, enjoys serving dinner in outdoor settings—at one long dinner table.
The 12th Project Dinner Table took place at Cashman Field in 2011.
One Saturday in April 2009, I was home just flipping through magazines, and I remember thinking, We’re missing something in this community, and the idea of people, food, and purpose started to swirl around in my brain. There was a gap: Some in the community said people don’t volunteer in Las Vegas, but that wasn’t my experience. I’d come across some really great people, so I thought, What better way to fill that gap than to start with my own circles of influence and bring people together? That’s how the concept of Project Dinner Table was born. It was about getting back to the basics—at one really long dining table.
This goes back to something I lacked growing up. The fantasy has always been that you find that vibrational match, that person you were meant to be with and you sit down and have dinner with, and that is family. But my mom and her boyfriend traveled a lot, and there weren’t a lot of family gatherings. I took care of my younger brother, who is homeless and has been on the streets since he was 15. So it brings me great satisfaction to bring people together and have them dine this way, together, the way I’ve always wanted. I’ve had two marriages; my daughter is 13 and lives in New Hampshire, in a community where they have dinner at 6 pm. I wanted for her what I didn’t have.
The whole Project Dinner Table experience takes about five hours. The dinner table is up to 200 feet long, and the environments are magical. We bring in volunteers, tie in a nonprofit gift-giving component, and then get chefs out beyond their four walls to make dinner. It’s kind of guerrilla-style because they don’t have all the conveniences they have in their kitchens. We don’t do tons of staging or spend excess money, but the places we choose to hold the events are adventurous. We have taken over Cashman Field, where we had a very long dinner table along the baselines. We’ve been on Jackie Gaughan Parkway downtown, in Town Square, and at the Natural History Museum and adjacent Heritage Park. We have new locations this year: Tivoli Village, the TPC Summerlin golf course. The season kicked off in April at the Neon Museum.
What better way to solve problems or connect with new people than to break bread around the dinner table? It’s pretty amazing to see this table after you finish setting it and 200 people start herding in to find their seats. The table is only two and a half feet wide, so it’s very intimate. To date, we’ve given back to The Shade Tree, Safe Nest, HELP of Southern Nevada, Communities in Schools, Through the Eyes of a Child Foundation, Three Square….The gifts aren’t large, and that’s where I’d like to see us moving the needle. There are more opportunities to keep those gifts growing, and each year we’ve upped the ante.
Managing Project Dinner Table is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely worth it. Everywhere I go somebody says something, or people send me e-mails about it. Everyone else’s love for and connection with Project Dinner Table continues to fuel me, but it needs to become sustainable. This is something I’ve chosen to do on the side, but now it requires a full staff. The hardest lessons I’ve learned are that you can’t help others if they don’t want to help themselves, and that you can’t give more than you receive.
If people walk away from Project Dinner Table feeling more connected, more love for their community and its safety-net system, or they fall in love with somebody at the table, whether that’s a friendship or something else, that means a lot to me. The Project Dinner Table event on May 18 benefits Golden Rainbow and the Women in Need Court. Proceeds from the June 29 event go to The First Tee of Southern Nevada and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open