Was it the promise of free food? Was it the idea of supervised crafts and activities for kids? Or was it the opportunity for people from around town to get together for no other purpose than to be together?

Whatever it was, the first-ever Gather at the Table event saw more than 400 people show up at Essex High School on Jan. 11 to spend a night together.

While the school’s cafeteria might have looked like any other busy restaurant on a Saturday evening, the Gather function had a more personal feeling. Folks from different tables interacted with those from others--reconnecting with friends and acquaintances in addition to meeting fellow community members who they may not have ever talked to before.

“We’re very gracious,” said Tyler Weeks--a 10-year resident of Essex. “It’s humbling to have the opportunity to have all the kids come out and not have to cook and do the dishes. The kids are all smiles, they’re getting some exercise, and we’re meeting a lot of new people.”

Dinner included chicken, macaroni and cheese, and delectable rice with desert being brownies and an ice cream station. All of the food was provided and prepared by the Essex Westford School District’s (EWSD) Child Nutrition Services and the event’s volunteers.

Activities in the gymnasium included an inflatable bouncy house, supervision for the rock climbing wall, arts and crafts, and setups for basketball, soccer, and lacrosse playing.

Entertainment included the musical stylings of Wu Brothers Music--a pair of Essex High seniors who performed with the violin, cello, and piano.

“This was a fantastic family event, and I got to talk to a lot of new people from the community,” said 11-year Essex resident Jessica Neiles. “I really appreciate all the hard work that went into putting it all together. Dinner and dessert were wonderful.”

That work which pulled it all together was headed, in part, by organizers Bridget Meyer and Erin Knox. They, along with others of the planning committee, were able to procure funds from various entities including the Village of Essex Junction Trustees, the Town of Essex Selectboard, and the EWSD.

“It’s really satisfying,” said Meyer towards the end of the night after seeing the planning turn into such a successful event. “The turnout was great. I think people loved the open gym--and obviously the free food. But it’s more getting the community together and having people talk to one another… especially those that had never talked to one another before.”

“The cross section… I mean--all ages,” Knox said exuberantly. “It was wonderful to see, and it went really smoothly. The attendance: we couldn’t have hoped for more. For a first-time event, we’re thrilled.”

Lori Houghton--another organizer who spoke to the guests sans microphone--mentioned how she and the planning committee are hoping to make the gathering an annual event and maybe even do something else throughout the year.

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