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Sharing a Meal and the Opportunities it Offers

Food. Water. Safety. Rest. Fun. Belonging. Respect. Dignity. Beauty. 

How inspired and curious it makes me feel to fantasize about a time and place where all these needs have the potential to be met at the same time across all ages, gender identities, socioeconomic realities, races, cultures, languages.

I imagine a community that can talk, mourn, laugh, create, and grieve together. That can share stories, connect, and contribute to each others’ needs to be seen and known. Where we all thrive through creating rather then surviving, and move through discomfort with ease because we simply know how to connect with the compassion we carry within ourselves.  

Hungry? Let’s talk more over dinner. 

Early this year I started hosting “Community Dinners” at the Gandhi Institute as part of the “Season for Nonviolence.” The core thought around those evenings was, and is, to create a space where neighbors, friends, strangers, and community members can come together and share a meal. 

We provide the vegan and gluten free home made food and deserts and at the end of the evening, everyone is encouraged to give a contribution that is  within each individual’s means.

If someone is in need of a free meal and human connection without the pressure of having to contribute financially, I believe and trust that it will be balanced by those who can give more with ease. 

We began by hosting three dinners within the Season for Nonviolence and continued as we  found those evenings to be incredible opportunities for relationship building. Lovely members of our community have started to contribute food, we had a wonderful musician one night who inspired us with her enchanting Chinese pipa, and people of all walks of life have come to laugh and connect with each other.   

I am excited about the potential of this dinner series. There is a lot to learn here — within cooking, creating  a space that guests feel welcome in, inviting and embracing discomfort as an opportunity for growth, and trusting an uncertain process with no real way of knowing how many people to expect. 

One of the things that has stuck with me most from the dinners was some feedback from an  exhausted teacher who was incredibly grateful to not have to be responsible for cooking after a busy day of work. At the end of the meal, she told me she was leaving feeling nurtured and a sense of relief. 

Very dear to my heart is the hope that whole communities and neighborhoods can become more self organised, empowered, and connected units by simply sharing affordable, healthy meals regularly. And through that, there will be an opportunity for relationships to be built and strengthened. 

While reflecting on the dinners that have already taken place, I noticed that neighbors and their children were curious, stopped by, and got the chance to interact with other community members and staff in a way that seemed open hearted and genuine. There  was a short moment of silence and insecurity in the beginning as people arrived and strangers met one another in a quite unusual context. In the end, however, curiosity and an openness to uncertainty sparked conversations and opened the arena for honesty and transparency about topics that are usually hard to talk about. 

It is so easy to walk by one another on the street, in the neighborhood, at the grocery store, and forget to acknowledge each other’s presence, stories, struggles, and celebrations. I believe that having a platform that allows us to intentionally see one another is a powerful step towards a healing path within our humanity. I am grateful that I am able to play a role in providing such an opportunity in Rochester. 

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