Sarah Harmeyer: Gathering Neighbors Around the Table
Sarah Harmeyer has always been good at planning dinners. For over ten years, Sarah worked for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the amazing institution based in Memphis, Tennessee, that advances cures and means of prevention for pediatric catastrophic diseases free of charge. Sarah orchestrated logistics for fundraising dinners and galas for a living, and in 2010 she was relocated to Dallas. It was here she transitioned to work with St. Jude as a major gifts advisor and some time in planned giving for donors in Texas.
“As a young professional, I found a lot of my identity in my work,” Sarah said. “When I moved to Dallas, I kind of wanted to redefine my identify. I am a people-gatherer, and I love sharing in relationships with people.”
After moving to Dallas, Sarah found a church home so that she could start building intentional community in her new neighborhood. In a conversation about meeting new people, Sarah’s pastor and friend challenged her to think about how she might fulfill her people-gathering spirit by creating tangible acts of community. “When I thought about the best moments of my life, they all revolved around the table,” Sarah recalled. “It felt like my heart was alive when I got to gather people at the table. So I used that idea as the basis to start being intentional with people in my community.”
On a whim, Sarah asked her dad, Lee, if he could build her a table that would seat 20 people. Sarah’s dad worked in the oil industry for years and years, but he was always what Sarah lovingly referred to as a “piddler.” Lee had retired and was always excited about starting new projects and hobbies. He had never built a table before, but he knew he was up for the challenge. Sarah envisioned having a large farmhouse-style table with a gorgeous chandelier dropped overhead, creating an inviting and beautiful ambiance in her backyard. Sarah loved the way the table turned out, and once it was situated in her yard, she started plotting ways to incorporate people around her gorgeous new piece of furniture.
In 2012, Sarah set a goal to serve 500 people around her table by hosting one dinner party after another. “I didn’t know any of my neighbors and I was still fairly new to Dallas,” Sarah said. “I was working all the time and hadn’t had time to meet anyone. I needed to be purposeful about gathering community.” Sarah shared details about her first dinner party on NextDoor, the popular private social network for neighborhood communities. She invited her neighbors, who she hadn’t yet met, to bring a potluck dish or beverage to share. Sarah planned to provide live music, and she set her table for 20 with linens and dishes. The outcome exceeded Sarah’s wildest dreams: 91 neighbors showed up to that very first dinner.
“Suddenly I realized that my motto was going to become the more the merrier,” Sarah said. “If people wanted to come to my table, I wanted to be open to that. I started living with an open heart, inviting anyone and everyone to join me in my backyard.”
By Thanksgiving of 2012, Sarah had hosted 500 guests at her home, and she showed no signs of stopping. By the end of 2013, a friend called to see if there was a way Sarah’s methods for hosting could expand. “I realized there’s other people wired just like me, those who are people-gatherers,” Sarah said. “I wondered if my dad could build tables for them.”
After some prompting and encouragement from her friend, Sarah’s dad began building custom tables for hosts and hostesses who ordered them from Sarah’s site, The Neighbor’s Table. Lee began building the tables in a workshop he set up at the Harmeyer family’s ranch south of Austin, and Sarah opted to deliver tables to each customer herself, offering to have a meal with the customer and his or her family when she arrived with their new custom piece of furniture. “Some think I’m in the table business,” Sarah laughed, “but I like to say I’m in the people business.”
Sarah was continuing to host dinners in her spare time and delivering tables using her vacation days while she was working for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It finally came time when Sarah needed to take the leap and make Neighbor’s Table her full-time work. Now, in addition to hosting dinners and delivering tables (she’s delivered tables to customers in 26 states!), Sarah participates in community events and speaking engagements, sharing the message of how her life changed by uniting people around the dinner table.
“When I moved to Dallas, I started living my life really intentionally,” Sarah said. “I started circling people around the table. Everyone wants to be known and seen. The Neighbor’s Table helps spread that message and connect people with one another.”
We asked Sarah her best piece of hostessing advice, and we loved what she had to share: “Let’s try to care a little bit less about the work that comes along with hostessing and focus more on the people we’re with. Make the experience about people, and make it simple. I don’t want to dismiss the hosts who are uber creative and can make tablescapes that look like they’re off Pinterest because everyone should be using their gifts as an expression—but if that’s not your thing, don’t get hung up on it. Order pizza!”
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Story by Rachel Brown. Photos courtesy of Neighbor's Table.