COVID-19 stops Tuesday dinners, but community thrives in a new way

Suspending Tuesday dinners for COVID-19 in mid-March felt apocalyptic, the end of the world as we knew it.

Weekly meals in this community of welcome for people seeking refugee protection started in 1998 around our family dining table.  These meals immediately became the centre point of the week, a kind of sacred gathering of volunteers and guests with Kinbrace residents, former residents, neighbours, and staff.  From the beginning, we learned that sharing food brought the Kinbrace community together in a way nothing else could.

I deeply respect the courage new Kinbrace residents exhibit attending a Tuesday dinner.  There’s vulnerability in taking up the invitation of strangers.   In the first years living at Kinbrace, Tama and I observed an average of 6 weeks before a new resident would come to dinner.  Trust was a first ingredient.

For the first eight years of Kinbrace’s story, I did most of the cooking for Tuesday dinners.  When meal preparation and dining moved next door in 2005 with the acquisition of a new house, it created space for others to cook, and we started eating the wonder of the world:  tamales, njera ba wat, Aztec soup, ghormeh sabzi, bamia, dolma, kusheri……!

Delicious food and an open door have a way of gathering a crowd and, by 2011, we had a bit of problem on our hands with too many people attending Tuesday dinners.  With ever-increasing numbers, we observed a decrease in attendance by new Kinbrace residents.  The social connectedness and joyous noise of old-timers seemed to create barriers to belonging for the newest among us.

Concerned we were losing our way, Emily Parsons Dickau (Community Building Coordinator at the time) helped us in 2012 to reorient, rediscover, and proclaim the deep purpose of Tuesday dinners:  to welcome the newest residents living at Kinbrace.

We continue to learn that hospitality is at its best when it’s generously spacious and keenly focused.

While COVID-19 suspends Kinbrace community dinners, we decided to mark the traditional, sacred dinner space with Kinbrace residents meeting weekly in the late afternoon on Tuesdays, sitting in a wide circle in the back yard, for a facilitated check-in, telling stories of the week, expressing concerns or needs, and hearing from each other, voices and perspectives from seven countries representing four continents.

There’s a distinct strangeness being gathered with no food to share.  It’s simply not the normal Kinbrace experience.  Yet, the shared experience of sheltering in place against the COVID-19 plague seems an unexpected recipe that’s leading the community to an unusual familiarity and care for each other midst diversity and vulnerability.