On the Table builds community by breaking bread

Vancouver Foundation's second annual series invites people from throughout B.C. to gather for shared food and conversation

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      The world is more connected than ever before, and yet it’s not uncommon for people to feel disconnected.

      wants to change that. Through its second annual series, the organization is inviting people from across British Columbia to gather with friends, family, neighbours, acquaintances, or strangers over food and conversation, all to create and foster community.

      Perhaps never before in our modern era has the ancient practice of breaking bread with others been more crucial. The inspiration for On the Table came from a 2017 Vancouver Foundation Connect & Engage report, which revealed that many Metro Vancouver residents are feeling detached from their community.

      In a survey of almost 4,000 people, it found that one-third of those between 25 and 34 felt alone more than they would like. Another one-third said they have trouble making friends. Forty percent of high-rise dwellers felt lonely, almost twice the number living in detached homes. And the loneliest people also reported being in poorer health.

      “One of the aspects our survey pointed to was social isolation,” says Vancouver Foundation director of partnerships Lidia Kemeny. “People talk about how Vancouver is a friendly place but how relationships tend to be somewhat superficial. If you ask someone for directions, they’ll give them to you, or you might wave to your neighbour going out the front door, but that’s often where relationships stop. We want to provide an excuse for people to connect with each other on a slightly deeper level.

      “The sharing of food is the quintessential human experience,” she says. “People love to gather around food, and our most meaningful conversations are often at the table.”

      Following a successful launch in 2018, On the Table is back. Although most events will take place on September 26, people everywhere in B.C. have from that day until October 3 to plan or attend a gathering.

      Here’s how it works: anyone can sign up to be a host, whether they’d like people to meet in their home or at the library, a coffee shop, an office meeting room, a park, or anywhere else.

      Hosts have access to materials and resources to help prepare for their event, invite guests, and guide conversations. Afterward, Vancouver Foundation will distribute a survey that will invite hosts to share benefits and insights that came from hosting an event and connecting with their community. These thoughts, as well as the topics discussed and the number of participants, will then be shared with the public.

      While some form of food is at the centre of the informal get-togethers, the fare doesn’t need to be fancy, home-cooked, or elaborate—unless you want it to be. Maybe it’s a plate of doughnuts; perhaps it’s a three-course meal. People might opt for a potluck; others might want to serve tea and cookies.

      The point is to come together to talk face to face. The topic of conversation could be anything, whatever is on your mind, whether it’s cinema, cooking, or social shifts.

      Last year, more than 360 conversations took place throughout the province, with more than 4,500 people participating.

      Topics from the inaugural event included plastics, honeybees, diversity, cultural appropriation, fashion, waste, female friendships, hearing loss, reconciliation, death and dying, local music, accessible travel, and the #MeToo movement, to name just a few.

      “Social isolation is a very complex problem, but connecting to each other can be simple,” Kemeny says. “On the Table is an opportunity and an excuse for people to reach out to each other and connect in a low-barrier way. It doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. It could be as simple as inviting a couple of people out for a coffee and a muffin.

      “It’s about community-building,” she adds. “It’s an accessible way to share what matters most to you and a powerful opportunity to talk about what’s on your mind.”

      By gathering information from On the Table, Vancouver Foundation is better able to understand some of the key priorities, challenges, and interests among the people of B.C. As a broad funder of B.C.’s charitable sector, Vancouver Foundation bridges the generosity of donors to community causes with organizations to enable programs to happen in community. When people are connected to others, they’re more likely to participate, be engaged, and be healthier.

       “Universally, almost everyone is longing for deeper connection but don’t know how,” Kemeny says. “We’d like to inspire and encourage everyone to show up and reach out to others and make this happen and become a movement across the province.”’

      For more information and to register for On the Table 2019, please visit .