There’s a radical social gathering happening this September, and its founders want you to help host it. It’s easy — you plan a get together with neighbours, friends, people you admire, anyone really, to talk about a topic that’s important to you.
And the Vancouver Foundation helps you plan the event and even pitches in to cover the cost of snacks.
The event is called On The Table, and it’s a powerful anti-isolation tool the foundation thought up three years ago to celebrate its 75th anniversary. It wanted to create a low-barrier way for British Columbians to realize how easy it is to connect with one another.
Even before COVID-19, research done by the foundation found British Columbians felt isolated and disconnected, says Lidia Kemeny of the Vancouver Foundation.
Even people who may not have felt lonely or isolated before might face challenges now, Kemeny says. And being connected online “is a very different experience to connecting to people in person," she added.
When people become disconnected the health, democracy and social fabric of a community suffers, Kemeny says.
So every September, the Vancouver Foundation encourages people all over the province to choose a topic and host a hangout, a dinner or even just a meetup in the park to connect. This year, of course, while maintaining social distancing and heeding Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice for safe gatherings. Outside is best, if possible.
It might seem daunting, so here are answers to some questions you may have.
How can I sign up to host an event?
Start with the On The Table website. There you can browse past topics that brought people together and find a toolkit with tips and tricks to help host.
Create an approach that feels doable and comfortable for you, says Kemeny. That can mean coffee and doughnuts in the park or a dinner hosted in your own home. You need to invite at least one guest, but past that the only restrictions are the province’s latest health guidelines, she says.
And as for deadlines, hosts can sign up to put on an event anytime in September, so there’s room to find a day that works for you.
Last year, Robin Jenkinson hosted a dinner at her home on Salt Spring Island to talk about school gardens. She felt nervous inviting people she admired into her home, but described their evening as fantastic. Afterwards it felt like her guests were pals rather than just associates, she said.
What kind of topic should I choose?
Well, what do you want to talk about? Past hosts have brought people together to brainstorm how to create fat-friendly spaces, talk about lived experience as an interracial couple or how to die well. But groups also got together to compare pet peeves, discuss how to empower local musicians and — a topic before its time — about barbers who sneeze on you.
Someone mentioned snacks?
People come together over food, so it’s a natural part of the event. Whether that’s serving up homemade dumplings or supporting a local business with takeout, food will help break the ice and bring everyone together.
On The Table offers grants up to $100 to cover the cost of food, equipment or renting a space for the event.
Is it really the right time to connect with my neighbours? What about that pandemic?
COVID-19 has made it even more important to connect with the people in our neighbourhoods, Kemeny says. People have lost their jobs and had to move homes, which means you could have new neighbours who are feeling isolated.
“There’s such a desire for people to be hosted, to be welcomed, to be included. Right now more than ever, we really want to challenge ourselves to take on this work as part of our civic responsibility,” she said.
Salt Spring’s Jenkinson pointed to the power of fostering community.
“In community organizing it feels like individuals may feel isolated, but they don’t realize that most people around them feel the same way,” she says. “So if they don't take the first step to reach out and connect, possibly no one ever will. It’s up to each of us to take the initiative to create the world we want to live in.”
Some really incredible ideas happen when people get together like this. That’s why the foundation promotes its Neighbourhood Small Grants program at On The Table, Kemeny says.
People can apply for grants up to $500 to implement ideas on how to increase social connection. That can look like anything from karaoke nights in the park to putting on workshops on how to make salve using local weeds.
"We trust you to know what is needed in your neighbourhood," Kemeny said.
Jenkinson is once again taking on what she views as the fun challenge to host an On The Table.
She wants to bring people together to talk about gardens again, but this time outdoors around a bonfire. To keep physically distanced they can roast hot dogs with really long sticks, she says with a laugh.
Just try it, Kemeny says. “You're better off doing something — even if it’s simple — than doing nothing because it feels overwhelming.”
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