One Acre Cafe to Celebrate First Community Meal Since 2019 | WJHL

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Staff and volunteers at One Acre Cafe are “upbeat and giddy” about the nonprofit’s first indoor community meal since pre-COVID, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at 603 W. Walnut St.

“We’re hoping to serve 350 people and that’s what we’re prepared for,” cafe manager Vickie Tipton said on Friday as volunteer staff busied themselves serving customers and keeping the cafe’s interior safe. West Walnut Street clean as a pin.

“A lot of what we asked for, we got, so it’s a real blessing.”

The free meal will include roast turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean and cornbread casserole, sautéed collard greens, apple and pumpkin pies, rolls and drinks .

The tradition dates back to the very first coffee month, December 2013, when they served a meal to thank people for getting the coffee going. Although it has a small paid staff and earns money for people who pay for meals, One Acre relies heavily on community donations and volunteer work.

Justin Paul volunteers to serve diners at One Acre Cafe on November 18, 2022, in Johnson City, Tennessee. The cafe will serve its first free community-wide meal on Nov. 23 with a Thanksgiving buffet. (Photo WJHL)

People who can’t pay can help out at the cafe through the ‘meal exchange program’.

Annual community meals held in November and December have helped put the cafe’s mission and needs front and center for the hundreds of people who frequent them, Tipton said.

“It’s a cafe where everyone is welcome, so it’s not just for customers who come for dinner regularly, but it’s for the whole community that comes.”

One Acre tries to achieve zero food waste, sending leftovers every day to places like Haven of Mercy and Manna House, which provide meals to people for free.

“We try not to waste anything and we also try to give back to the community,” Tipton said.

While One Acre had nine visible and successful years on Dec. 3, business at 603 W. Walnut St. has been tough in recent years, said director and founder Jan Orchard.

“During COVID, we had to close the doors, but we never stopped serving,” Orchard said. “We pushed 250, 300 meals a day out of boxes [to] people, because the Salvation Army has closed. They stopped serving lunch, so we were the only resource for people in that community.

As major COVID disruptions began to wane, Johnson City began a multi-year upgrade of the West Walnut Street corridor, and inflation began to rise.

“Because of COVID, because of what’s happened in the community, financially in the economy, people don’t have as much discretionary money with inflation, the cost of food,” said Orchard. “We are also impacted by the cost of food.”

This cost is one of the reasons One Acre will only be doing one community meal this year. Attendees, and continuing coffee supporters, will learn about the “Take Us To 10” campaign to keep One Acre sustainable until its 10th anniversary on December 3, 2023.

Orchard said the next six weeks will be particularly important.

“We had a donor come forward to give the cafe $20,000 if we can match it by December 31,” she said. The cafe has been sending holiday letters about it, letting diners know, and will be sure to share the news on Wednesday.

But Tipton, the cafe’s manager, said Wednesday’s vibe won’t just be about soliciting donations.

“We’ll have lots of food and it’ll be a family environment, it’ll be a community environment where you can meet people you haven’t seen in a long time, you can reunite with your family. It’s just exciting. The staff are all upbeat and giddy about it.

More information about One Acre and its mission can be found on the cafe’s website.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement