In the long hallway that stretches through the middle of Charlie and Ruth Jones’s downtown apartment on Elm Street, folding tables covered in white tablecloths and simple brown paper create the setting for a banquet, a feast — the last Greensboro Grub.
For more than a decade, Charlie and Ruth have been inviting friends and strangers into their home once a month to sit down and have a meal together. Now the two are closing the chapter on their time in Greensboro and moving to St. Joseph, Mo. in the next month to continue the kind of community building they achieved with Grub.
“We started by inviting random people like the lady from the bank,” Charlie explains. “We gathered people who didn’t know each other.”
“There is no agenda for the Grub except to love people,” Ruth continues. “To love lavishly; no hidden strings. It literally is just to get people who come from different strata, every kind of difference you can think of, in the same room. To get feet under the same table and have meaningful conversation.”
Charlie says that one of the attendees told him it was the first they had ever sat for a meal with a nuclear physicist on their right side and a homeless musician on the left.
“We wanted to bring people on the margins to the inside and let people on the inside experience people on the margins,” Ruth says.
The couple, who met through theater, had been together for years when they moved from Tennessee to join City Church in Greensboro. The two are Christians and say that the Grub is an extension of their faith.
“Our goal was to show that not all evangelical Christians are assholes,” Charlie says.
Over the years, hundreds of people have enjoyed lavish meals cooked by Charlie and desserts crafted by Ruth in their home. The couple spends half a week preparing the meals and prepping their home each time. On the days of, they get up at 4 in the morning. After the meals, guests take to the stage that’s been built in the living room and perform everything from spoken word to opera to skits. The only thing the couple asks for in return is a suggested donation of $10-15, barely enough to cover the food.
They get a few regular volunteers, too, like those who come early to help prep the food and wash dishes afterwards.
And the final evening is no different.
Dozens of people fill the 5,000-square-foot apartment, mingling in every corner and crevice of the space. The Grub draws an average of 60 people each time, but this night, the last night, there’s close to 70 people packed into the penthouse.
Tim and Paula Rivers have been coming to the dinners since Charlie and Ruth started them but one Grub in particular stands out.
“We had decided we were going to get married,” Tim says. “But to make it fun, I was gonna propose in a surprising way.”
During the entertainment portion of one of the Grubs in 2014, Tim got up on stage and asked Paula to join him.
“I said I was gonna write a poem about Chick-Fil-a,” Tim says. “But then Paula came up on stage and I got down on one knee.”
Charlie and Ruth caught the whole thing on camera and gave it to the newly engaged couple as a gift.
As Charlie announces that it’s time to eat, the guests fill each seat at the vast dinner table.
Crystal white string lights on green wire hang criss-cross from the ceiling, illuminating the final meal. In past Grubs, there have been themes around a certain cuisine like German or Indian or Peruvian. This time?
“It’s clean out the freezer Grub,” Charlie jokes before he recites his regular prayer. “Love the person across from us more than we love ourselves.”
A salad with bits of feta, chopped apple, bacon and fresh greens acts as a starter while bowls of mac and cheese and cheesy tomato casserole are passed down the line.
“I’ve sat at every end of this table,” says Ron Hargrove, looking around.
Hargrove is a local poet and has performed several times at the Grub.
“The entire Greensboro arts community is in debt to Ruth and Charlie,” Hargrove says.
Josephus Thompson, another poet in the city, says he’s been to probably 75 percent of the Grubs. This night however, he’s not in attendance and the absence is felt by many including Charlie.
“I will miss Josephus,” he says. “He has been a friend, advocate and partner of sorts in the Grub.”
A poem by Thompson, aptly titled “Grub,” hangs at the top of the stairs in Ruth and Charlie’s apartment. He wrote it for “27 Views of Greensboro,” a book highlighting the city through prose and poetry.
“It was something that people needed to know about,” Thompson explained in a phone interview on Monday. “It changed people’s lives. It was part of my Greensboro experience. When I think about Greensboro, this was a huge part of it.”
Bill Thompson, the new owner of the building, says he hopes to continue the Grub in some form.
“I’m open to that,” he says. “I’d like to maintain that positive energy. It is a lot to take on… but I’m open to at least providing the venue for such a thing.”
Still, Josephus says that it won’t be the same without Charlie and Ruth around.
“It’s definitely gonna leave a hole,” he says. “It was really an opportunity to bring our city together, one Grub at a time.”