Homemade guacamole. Enchiladas. Rice and beans. Casseroles. Chocolate covered strawberries.
Last week, we held our very first potluck dinner at the Pathways Vermont Community Center. Have you been there yet? You walk into an open space with a pleasing purple laminate floor. There is a light brown sectional couch to one side and a row of handmade wooden tables and a bench along the wall on the other side. In the back of the space, there is a small kitchen with a countertop lined with green high top stools. The walls are decorated with rotating art from local artists. A pot of coffee and hot water for tea is always available. If a room could have a personality, this one is friendly with a bit of hip and artsy. The Community Center offers support groups, individual peer support services, supportive employment services, art and music activities, wellness workshops and creates a welcoming space for people to spend unstructured time with access to free Wi-Fi, public computers, snacks, tea, and coffee.
At a recent meeting with our members, they shared that they wanted the Community Center to be open more hours and to offer more meals. The funding we receive from the Department of Mental Health is only enough for us to be open for limited hours, and just enough for us to serve one hot meal a week, followed the next day with lunch (using leftovers from the day before). As we look for more partners and sustainable funding opportunities to increase services, we also wanted to respond immediately to the feedback provided by our constituents. And so the idea of “First Mondays” – a free monthly potluck hosted by Pathways Vermont’s volunteers was born.
The idea of a ‘potluck’ is fascinating. A quick google search about the history of the word leads back to Shakespearean times when it was used to reference unexpected visitors showing up for dinner and partaking in whatever was being served. In the United States, “potluck” became popular during the Depression when everyone brought something that was shared communally.
The Community Center potluck is a bit of both. We had a core group of people that agree to bring some food items (organized loosely around a theme, our first was “Taco Night”), but literally, anyone and everyone are welcome to drop in and partake of what we have and share in community. We all eat together. We don’t have a line of volunteers solely serving. We sit side-by-side and break bread (or taco shells) literally and metaphorically.
So night one of our First Mondays was a success. The room was full, people ate, people talked and connected with one another. We noted a few things that could be improved upon: more advertising and the kitchen is sorely lacking in some industrial strength pots (note to self to get the word out about kitchen needs).
As we were closing up the center for the night a young man was pacing by the front door. I hadn’t noticed him earlier. It was a particularly cold night, the kind of night that you run from your car to your front door because it hurts to be outside for even for a moment. Paisley, who works in our development department, was also by the door, bundled up and on her way out. Paisley and I started talking to the young man. He was polite and spoke in a speedy manner. I was sorry I hadn’t seen him earlier. He said he didn’t eat anything and he didn’t want anything. He was nervous and guarded but open to talking in the moment. I gathered that he stayed on and off at the shelter, and may or may not have been kicked out. He was clearly not dressed for the weather. He had lengths of wire randomly hanging from his pockets. While we were talking I couldn’t help but notice that Paisley and he were probably about the same age, and by their long blond hair and similar features, could have been siblings or cousins.
As he slipped out the door all in a rush, before I could offer him my mittens or to wrap up some food for him, my eyes welled up.
I have been working with people experiencing homelessness for a long time now and witnessing it never ceases to devastate me. It also inspires me to keep doing more, and better. Until this blight on humanity is ended.
I am grateful our Community Center doors were open that night. And I am hopeful that our new friend will come back again. Next month, April 1st we are doing a pasta-themed potluck. Would you like to join us? There is always room for another seat at our table.
Here are 3 ways you can support our First Mondays:
- Donate to help us purchase new kitchen pots and other supplies
- RSVP to let us know you’re coming and what you’re bringing (or just bring yourself!)
- Volunteer your time and help create our Community Center community