By Amanda Citro and Caroline Duble
We the People: Working Together is Spirit in Action’s newest research and organizing initiative. Our goal is to engage low-income and working-class people in grassroots organizing and to empower communities to take charge of the issues that affect them! We’ve been conducting a listening project in Swannanoa, North Carolina over the past year and have interviewed over 100 people about their love of this community and about their shared concerns. Written from the point of view of two Spirit in Action interns, Caroline and Amanda, this blog post highlights of the amazing work of an important group in the Swannanoa community, The Welcome Table. Read more about the vision and progress of We the People on our website dedicated to this initiative.
Caroline and I arrived at a local food bank early on a Tuesday morning, just before the sun had come up. We were there to meet with Beth Schultz and Jackie Kitchen, two tireless community members, to help them pick up food to cook for the weekly Welcome Table. The Welcome Table is a community gathering and free meal that is held every Wednesday at the Swannanoa United Methodist Church.
As we ran around trying to keep up with the food gathering, it was amazing to see how efficiently Beth and Jackie were able to plan meals while sorting. They moved with so much energy and enthusiasm, reflected in their clear dedication to Swannanoa. It was easy to see that they had been doing this for a long time, and worked well as a team. It’s hard to describe in words how genuinely caring these women are, but one example might illustrate this: As Beth was sorting through the bread, I noticed that she was giving some of the best breads to a man from Loving Food Resources (another organization that provides food pantry services). She told me, “We’ve been shopping together for so long that we know what the other person wants. So, now we help each other shop!” This eager, community-oriented attitude is inspiring and makes everyone want to be a part of it.
After shopping at the food bank, we headed back to the church and helped haul in the groceries. Because it was Tuesday, we rushed to unpack for the food pantry along with other regular volunteers, who all seemed to know each other well, laughing and joking. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Jackie and Beth were busy preparing food for the Welcome Table meal the next day. Despite the hectic environment, I was able to ask Beth a few questions about the Welcome Table and her role there. She mentioned that she had been working to prepare food for the Welcome Table for eight years, after moving to Swannanoa from Japan. She also mentioned that she had lived all over the world but was drawn to the beauty of the Swannanoa community. Finding Welcome Table and the Methodist Church provides her with the type of community she always looks for. I was also able to talk to Jackie for a few moments. She has so many amazing ideas to improve Swannanoa, including community gardens, a food co-op, affordable housing and more community events.
The following week we were both able to attend the meal at the Welcome Table and see the fruits of all the volunteers’ work. While we helped to serve, we noticed people all around the room meeting up with old friends and checking in with them. As community members dined on chicken and pinto beans, a colorful salad, and delicious desserts, we observed how joyful the entire event was. There was a strong sense of community in the familiar and comfortable way people work and eat together at the Welcome Table, and we both felt glad to spend time with such positive and kind people.
We the People is rapidly picking up speed in Swannanoa. As we continue to listen to community members, collaborate with community organizations like Welcome Table, and prepare for a community gathering and potluck, we are seeing interest in the project increase. Stay tuned for more updates from Swannanoa!