Building Community One Meal at a Time

There used to be a time when kids played outside more often, where families knew and relied on the neighbor next door, and when it was the norm to feel a sense of connectedness. While it might feel normal to be isolated from neighbors these days, a community is really only as strong and deep as its connections. Isolation simply does not work well for neighborhoods, no matter the economics and demographics of a community. Of course privacy is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but if becomes our new standard to have very limited interaction with neighbors, then our community will suffer.

Sometimes the simplest things can bring people together in a way that they otherwise never would have experienced. While we often think of natural disasters as events that create bonds between people (temporarily at least), the common experience of sharing a meal together has the potential to connect people who otherwise would be strangers.

For a six week period starting August 26, Community Thread will be the site for a community meal. In partnership with Our Community Kitchen, lunch will be served 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. every Wednesday through September 30. Everyone is invited to attend this donation-based meal and build connections with their community.

The food will be provided by Our Community Kitchen, which has been offering nutritious and creative breakfasts at Ascension Episcopal Church for over four years. Emphasizing a garden-to-table philosophy, the menu features a variety of locally-grown fruits and vegetables. As the only site in Minnesota belonging to the community café movement, Our Community Kitchen’s “pay what you can” philosophy breaks down the cost barrier. And by bringing volunteers together in the kitchen, and gathering neighbors together to share a meal, a spirit of community is built.

Yes, the online world is wonderful, but it cannot replace meaningful face-to-face interactions with people who share common beliefs, values and interests. At any stage in our lives, it is important to surround ourselves with a community of supportive people. In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam finds that a community’s well-being is dependent on the quality of relationships among the citizens of that community. He refers to this as social capital. Social capital creates a sense of belonging, thus enhancing the overall health of a community. And it all starts by meeting and getting to know your neighbors.

Through this pilot meal project, Community Thread and Our Community Kitchen will provide a welcoming setting for neighbors to gather, share stories and a healthy meal together. Diane Rollie, one of the founders of Our Community Kitchen, says it best: “it isn’t really about the food, at least not completely. It’s about building community, and practicing hospitality. And while the practice of hospitality is about sharing food, it is also about sharing our lives with other people. It’s about connecting.”

The menu changes weekly and can be found at www.OurCommunityKitchen.org. No reservation is needed. For more information, contact Community Thread at 651.439.7434 or www.CommunityThreadMN.org. Community Thread is located at 2300 Orleans St. W, Stillwater MN.  Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl would urge you to “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” And you just may meet a new friend.

By Sally Anderson