by Laura Sohn, Knoxville, TN.
If you learn from community, what happens when you need to build community? What happens when despite a supportive network within your community, you want to expand it and also contribute to the community that has supported your endeavors? Recently I was struggling with these questions. While I am not an educator, I am from a family of educators and have always gravitated towards teaching as a way to share my passions.
What I am is an event creator and planner, so the easiest way I know how to start building community is to sit down at a table and break bread. I’ve been doing it my entire adult life. People learn from each other during supper. People find commonalities while passing a plate of roast vegetables. Bridges can be built over a tray of banana pudding.
So for 4 weeks in January I am teaching a version of a home economics class to a group of residents at the YWCA. The housing set up is transitional and the ladies are there for various reasons, mostly domestic violence. They can live there for up to 2 years and are required to have a job.
I am writing this as I am in the middle of the 4 classes. The classes explore how to get a meal on the table, from weekly meal planning, to making a grocery list, to shopping, to preparing the meal. We are using different menus each week; each menu is driven from the class participants. For example, during our first class they asked what I would do for a Super Bowl party menu because they are trying to plan one. So the second class was a healthy, budget-friendly Super Bowl menu.
Each class builds on the last and my lesson plans are altered at the end of each class based on our discussions. As I ask questions, information is shared among participants. For example, one lady let another know she could use her food stamps at the farmers’ market and the market would match every dollar she spends.
During the last class we will get a meal on the table together. I will also hand out a graduation kit containing class notes, recipes, and a food stamp cookbook that they can use. From the first class it was clear this was a group of participants motivated to build more community among residents. They want to start a monthly supper club, they talked about having a plot at a community garden, and more. When we spoke about the community garden option, one of the ladies started crying because gardening has been such an important part of her life and as she transitions out of the situation that resulted in her living at the YWCA she has missed gardening.
Food is an anchor. Food is community. Food builds fellowship. After the first 15 minutes of the first class, I knew I made the right move to expand my community and to work with these ladies to be able to take some steps towards creating their own anchors in what is hopefully a move towards a stable and healthier living situation.
You can find Laura’s website here. Disclosure, she is the editor’s sister.