Gina Gavan: Gathering for Good

IT WAS DURING THE BOOM, then the subsequent bust that the concept of Las Vegas’ favorite family-style gathering came to Gina Gavan, the visionary and founder of Project Dinner Table.

“It’s about people, food—and purpose,” explains 43-year-old Gavan.

As president of a marketing company servicing numerous real estate developers, Gavan was hearing a lot of negative talk in 2008.

“People were saying, ‘We don’t have good volunteers,’ or ‘It’s hard to meet good people,’ and I didn’t feel those things were true.”

In fact, the Bloomington, Ind., native had met plenty of terrific people since arriving here in 2000. So, the idea of bringing them all together for the good of the community appealed to the philanthropist, who already was doing her part.

Inspired by her homeless brother, Gavan works extensively with homeless teens through Help of Southern Nevada; she’s also a past board chair for the Nevada Homeless Alliance; and she’s held a seat since 2007 on the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission’s Committee on Homelessness.

“We had lost sight of the basics,” says Gavan. “Gathering around the dinner table, being meaningful in our purpose and how we were connecting and how ultimately we could give back to make a difference.”

The dinner concept simmered in the entrepreneur’s mind for a long time—much like certain gourmet dishes were simmered before they were served to Project Dinner Table’s first guests in April 2010.

Since then 19 elaborate meals have been served to as many as 200 guests, all seated at a single table, in a unique and magical setting. One of these magical settings was Symphony Park, where chefs of The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas prepared the most recent dinner. The event, which occurred in November, benefitted The Smith Center and Communities In Schools.

“You have to make money to be innovative; and to be able to give back, you have to be able to receive,” explains Gavan about why she opted against a nonprofit status in lieu of a for-profit company with a social mission. That and she didn’t want to compete for funds against the same charities she was hoping to help.

As for the tax benefits afforded nonprofits, Gavan says, “That’s exactly not what it’s about.”

Gavan believes that giving and receiving need to be in balance, but to that end, she admits she has some work to do.

“We’ve just been giving,” she says.

And she’s doing it again: Encouraged by past guests eager for more intimate experiences, Dinner Table has recently launched a membership program. For an annual fee of $39, members receive discounted prices on community dinners as well as the opportunity to partake in smaller meals.

“The smaller membership events are designed to create additional ways to plug-in, forge new connections, and enrich existing ones by feeding not only our stomachs, but our minds and soul(s).”

Dinner Table hosts private events, too. “I haven’t done a very good job of telling that story, just because the love is at the community dinners,” explains Gavan, who’s happy to customize a group experience to fit your budget.

Of course, you’ll be requested to share in the social mission. After all, it’s about people, food—and purpose.

Previously published by diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Project Dinner Table.