Neighbors sharing stories and Breaking Bread

by Walt Maguire
Posted 3/12/21

Breaking Bread, Building Bridges  is a new initiative from East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN) and West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN) to return a sense of community in a time when neighbors cannot …

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Neighbors sharing stories and Breaking Bread

Posted

Breaking Bread, Building Bridges  is a new initiative from East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN) and West Mount Airy Neighbors (WMAN) to return a sense of community in a time when neighbors cannot gather in person.  The plan is six dinners, virtual seating but all ordering from the same restaurants, with thirty participants per dinner.

The goal is 90 guests, representing the diversity of Mt. Airy, divided into 3 sets of 30. Each group of 30 will participate in 2 dinners. The groups will be arranged prior to the first April dinner. After the first announcement, 85 people had already applied. Now the application deadline has been extended to March 28 for the rest of the guests.

During each dinner, a facilitator will direct a group discussion and then break the large group down into smaller virtual group rooms of 7-8.

The concept started in 2016 at Reading Terminal Market, when Anuj Gupta, then the Market manager, noticed the way customers interacted.

“The idea was, if we could get people to understand one other through their cuisine, maybe they could start to understand one another as people,” Gupta explained.

The format is a more formal version of a traditional food-tasting, or neighborhood potluck. At each table there was a facilitator from the Human Relations Commission. By 2019 the Knight Foundation had funded additional dinners around the city. After working out this idea through 12 community dinners around town, the Fairmount Park Conservancy used the concept to “catalyze collaboration and understanding” between communities that surround neighborhood parks. These April dinner events might be the first time the concept has been attempted online instead of physically gathering in a public space.

Gupta, now Chief of Staff for Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA-3rd), has expressed concern the prolonged isolation will weaken connections in communities, and communities to the city.

“Even once everyone is vaccinated, I think there will still be some reluctance around one-on-one or community engagement once again,” he said. “We’ve lost the ability to have what I call ‘serendipitous interactions.’”

If interested in participating, submit a Dinner Guest application no later than March 28th or a Facilitator interest form by March 15th at eastmountairy.org. A representative from EMAN or WMAN will follow up to confirm participation.

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