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

“We are hoping to serve 350 people and that’s what we’re prepared for,” Cafe Manager Vickie Tipton said Friday as volunteer staff kept busy serving patrons and keeping the inside of the West Walnut Street cafe neat as a pin.

“So much of what we asked for we received, so it is a true blessing.”

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

The tradition dates back to the cafe’s very first month, December 2013, when they served a meal to thank people for getting the cafe up and running. While it has a small paid staff and does earn some money for people who pay for meals, One Acre relies heavily on both community donations and volunteer labor.

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

People who aren’t able to pay can help out at the cafe through the “meal exchange program.”

The annual community meals that occurred in both November and December have helped put the cafe’s mission and needs at the top of mind for the hundreds of people who attend them, Tipton said.

“This is a cafe where everyone is welcome, so it’s not just for customers that come in to dine on a regular basis, but it’s for all of the community to come.”

One Acre tries to achieve zero food waste, sending leftovers each 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 has had a visible and successful nine years come Dec. 3, business at 603 W. Walnut St. has been tough the last few years, director and founder Jan Orchard said.

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

As COVID’s major disruptions began to dwindle, Johnson City began a multi-year upgrade of the West Walnut Street corridor and inflation began ticking upward.

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

That cost is one reason One Acre is only going to do one community meal this year. People who come, and the cafe’s ongoing supporters, will learn about the “Take Us To 10” campaign aimed at keeping One Acre sustainable through to its 10th anniversary Dec. 3, 2023.

Orchard said the next six weeks will be particularly important.

“We have had a donor that has come forward to give the cafe $20,000 if we can match it by December 31st,” she said. The cafe has sent out holiday letters about it, is telling diners and will be sure to share the news Wednesday.

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

“We’ll have plenty of food and it’s going to be a family environment, it’s going to be a community environment where you can meet people that you haven’t seen in a long time, you can gather with your family. It’s just exciting. The staff is all upbeat and giddy about it.”

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