Breaking bread and building community

Posted 3/15/19

Once a month, volunteers come together to host the Siler City Community Meal with the goal of bringing the community for a free meal prepared by other community members. The Siler City Community Meal is held on the fourth Friday of each month from 6 - 8 p.m. at The Peppercorn at 138 N. Chatham Ave. in Siler City.

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Breaking bread and building community

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SILER CITY — Once a month, volunteers come together to host the Siler City Community Meal with the goal of bringing the community for a free meal prepared by other community members. The Siler City Community Meal is held on the fourth Friday of each month from 6 - 8 p.m. at The Peppercorn at 138 N. Chatham Ave. in Siler City.

The event was created by Siler City residents Wilma Schroeder and Gwen Overturf. The two began thinking about the idea in 2017, believing Siler City was ready for a “regular free meal gathering” similar to the weekly free lunch hosted by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Pittsboro every Thursday. The two even worked with St. Bartholomew’s lunch organizer Karen Ladd to gain advice and direction for their idea.

“She was so helpful in laying the groundwork,” Overturf said. “KT Lang, former chef at St. Bart’s, was also a great resource for advice and continues to pass along food that has been donated to her meals held at the Kiwanis Club in Pittsboro.”

The two held some initial interest meetings and researched for about a year until January of last year when the pair decided to jump in and start the event. With local proprietor Joan Underwood offering the pair the use of her Peppercorn location downtown, the first meal was held last March.

“From the very beginning, we’ve had the community’s support and enthusiasm,” Overturf said.

Over the past year, the Siler City Community Meal draws between 60 to 125 participants.

“In these times of deep division, we provide a safe place to gather and to meet people one might not have met in day-to-day life,” Overturf said. “We strive for a balance of all economic standings, cultural/ethnic roots and gender identities. All ages are welcome. We judge our success not by the number of people who attend but by the equal participation of people from different backgrounds.”

A Siler City Community Meal held three months ago was probably the most diverse attendance to date, according to Overturf. However, attendance from the Latinix community has dropped since then — something Overturf attributes to the recent ICE activities occurring across the state. Overturf sees the decrease in participation from the Latinix community as “disturbing since this community has supported us so wholeheartedly.” The group also hopes to engage the Asian and Middle Eastern community to encourage attendance. This outreach is a goal for the second year.

“One of our challenges is keeping a diverse attendance of all colors, cultures and economic levels,” Overturf said. “It is also our most important focus.”

The core volunteer group is comprised of seven women including Maggie Zwilling, Donna Johnson, Whitney Schmidt, Nancy Tanguay, Underwood, Schroeder, and Overturf. The group is hoping to diversify their core organizers as well.

“We are always looking for someone who doesn’t look like our core group of white women to join us in planning and throwing this community party,” Overturf said. “We need diverse planners, too, as much as diverse attendees and invite those interested in serving on the committee to let us know.”

The meal itself is supported by many local partners. Businesses including Brookwood Farms, Dockside, Artisan Hub, Rojo Canela, Angelina’s, Main Street Grill in Staley, and Old Place Catering and Events have all donated food for the meal in the past. In addition, local farmers have offered them fresh produce and they work with grocery stores in the area as well.

“I am always learning organic ways support manifests itself,” Overturf said. “I approached a department manager in a grocery store one day who said that they were not able to donate from that department but made a very generous donation of chicken for us out of her pocket right then and there. One day while grocery shopping I ran into one of our participants who immediately wanted to take me shopping with him to pick out the green beans, corn and drinks he felt we needed to serve. He paid on the spot. We have a donor who generously supports us each month. Due to this donation we’ve been able to invest in flatware, cups and many tools required to serve food to a crowd of people. We’ve learned that through sharing food we really ARE creating a community of diversity - just like we dreamed!”

Each month, the volunteers reach out to those who have offered to cook that month and arrange for the kind of food they want to prepare. The also ferret out any other details about the amount of food that will be prepared, serving containers to serve the guests and the time of delivery. The group provides a “balance of good, basic foods offered and more esoteric, gourmet dishes.” The group also lists the ingredients of each dish to ensure each attendee can adhere to dietary preferences and needs.

“We are blessed with community members who love the chance to donate food or cook almost every month and with those who make generous cash donations the night of the event,” Overturf said.

For the Siler City Community Meal First Birthday which they celebrate this month, Everett Leon Goldston, Family and Consumer Services teacher focusing on culinary arts at Chatham Central is partnering with the group to cater a full meal. The event is an opportunity for Goldston’s students to use the skills they are gaining in the classroom to practice cooking and serving the public. Overturf notes the partnership as a “windfall” for the event — not only will they have several delectable dishes, but they welcome the youth volunteers and their involvement with the Siler City Community Meal.

The Siler City Community Meal Birthday will take place at 6 p.m. on March 22 at the Peppercorn at 138 N. Chatham Avenue in Siler City. For more information, visit the Siler City Community Meal Facebook page.

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