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“Back in Bloom!” with Community Kitchens

Last month, The Stop opened its kitchen to community members for the first time since March.

Our work has changed dramatically since then, but holding space for social connection and communitywhile keeping health and safety at the forefrontremains our priority. The rise in COVID cases has now put programs like this on hold, but we’ll keep looking for innovative ways to safely reduce social isolation.

Hussein Silva and Sharlyn Barahona are the coordinators our Community Kitchen program. In this blog post, they reflect on how COVID has brought new community members to our doors, and explain how cooking together can act as an “antidote to uncertainties.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

Community kitchens create an opportunity for people to enjoy a delicious meal, meet new people, and actively be a part of something they know they belong to.

We spent the past few months re-imagining what cautious gathering could look like, and when the public health restrictions eased in August and September, we were excited to launch a new pilot of the Community Kitchen program called “Back in Bloom.” This weekly, 6-session series had a max capacity of 10 participants to ensure proper physical distancing and efficient monitoring. While it was quite different from a traditional Community Kitchen (which used to entertain groups of about 40 community members every week!), we were proud of the results.

“Back in Bloom” was specifically designed for the influx of new community members we’ve received from different areas across the city who came to our Food Bank and drop-in programs throughout COVID. We found that as other food services were forced to close during the pandemic, people were traveling farther to access The Stop, and we hoped to formally welcome them into our community. Participants were also selected based on interest, availability, and commitment level.

Each session showcased a delicious full menuoften including budget-friendly and culturally diverse dishes. Participants were welcomed with a healthy snack, took part in some informational food activities, and then helped prepare a shared meal. No cooking experience was required, meaning that members arrived with a diverse skillset and with a desire to learn more.

“Back in Bloom” kicked off with a delicious pesto workshop that demonstrated the versatility of pesto in vegetarian, meat, and salad dishes. The second session followed with a Thai-inspired menu that featured personalized pad-thai dishes and a coconut-mango sticky rice dessert.

Feelings of isolation have been at an all-time high in these trying times, and this is particularly true for more vulnerable groups. As an organization that deliberately seeks to create an inclusive safe space, the pressing need for social connection was something we could not ignore. Participants of the program told us that their interest in joining stemmed from a desire to learn about new cultures, gather with people, and simply to have a reason to leave home.

Along with social isolation, they expressed concern around having enough money for food, paying rent, completing financial paperwork, and immigration status. Many also expressed financial worries, a lack of jobs available, the increase of restrictions, and an overall fear.

The Community Kitchen program seeks to be an antidote to these uncertainties by bringing people together and reminding them that they are not alone in this.

Hussein and Sharlyn

“Thank you Hussein and Sharlyn for a wonderful experience of the community kitchen. I am so grateful for all of your support and encouragement, it means a lot! By the way the moussaka turned out really well!! I very much enjoyed it. Makes me remind myself to not assume things and jump to negative conclusions, but to trust.” Lauren, participant