The World We Want to Live In: reports from the best lunch of the year.

Where else does this happen?

The World We Want to Live In: reports from the best lunch of the year.
Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Last Thursday, with the 200 block of MLK Ave. closed to traffic, Sharon Palmer of East Lake relaxed at a white table seated on the westbound side of the double yellows as a November wind blew light orange leaves from the maple trees nearby.

The warm sun felt good. All around her, hundreds of Chattanoogans shared a free Thanksgiving meal, seated at a long line of tables stretching end-to-end for one city block.

The moment was not lost to her.

Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

"Everybody can eat. Rich to poor," she said."You understand what I'm saying?"


Yes, we do.

Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

The annual Gratefull event is unlike anything else in this city. (Nightfall probably comes the closest.) As soon as you walk up, it hits you: how simple. How rare. It is the archetypal image of community.

Hundreds of people milling, talking, eating. A man played a piano wheeled in near the red light. Volunteers handed out bingo cards, offered free Polaroids, passed out name tags. People from the country club, business office and homeless shelter sat down around the same table.

Where else does this happen?

Cornbread, turkey, dressing, green beans, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes. Free food prepared by Chattanoogans, served by Chattanoogans, enjoyed by Chattanoogans.

"This is my meal today," said Kila Hudson, homeless since June. "If I hadn't of come, I would have eaten a banana sandwich in my car."

Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Palmer, across from her, counted her blessings.

"I am thankful to be alive," Palmer said. "The goodness of God. We wouldn't be here without the goodness of God."

Started by Causeway in 2014 and originally known as OneTable, the event, currently run by River City Co., has also been modified by other Southern cities.

According to one River City friend, so many Chattanoogans wanted to help, there was a wait list of volunteers.

"To volunteer here is kind of special," said Pream Patel, a Hixson High senior. "It's so cool to see everyone come together. This is different. What we do here is uplifting."

Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pream and classmates Emily Lott and Cesar Nunez and were composting leftovers. ("They're using compostable utensils," he said.) Other Hixson High students were serving food. (Later this winter, Food as a Verb will visit Hixson to see spotlight the great work of Lee Friedlander and his students.)

"I like giving back and paying it forward," said Erica Cade of BlueCross BlueShield.

It was hard to leave something this special. Folks continued to linger and bask after lunch ended, before going back to the office. Or shelter. Or car.

For one afternoon, under marvelous November skies, they ate lunch together.

As we walked away, Sarah said it best.

"This feels like the world I want to live in," she said. "I wish my days felt more like this."

Gratefull, MLK Ave., Chattanooga, Tennessee

All photography by Sarah Unger. Visit

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Regional Farmers Markets

  • Main St. Farmers Market, Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm (Note: the Thanksgiving week market was held on Tuesday.)

  • Brainerd Farmers Market, Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave,

Saturday, 10am - noon

  • Chattanooga Market, 1820 Carter Street

Sunday, 11am - 4pm

  • Ooltewah Farmers Market, The Ooltewah Nursery

Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

  • Signal Mountain Farmers Market

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

  • St. Albans Farmers Market, 7514 Hixson Pike

Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

  • Walker County Farmers Market

Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

To include your farmers market, email

Dig in. (It's free)