Bringing Neighbors Together

Small-town friendliness is alive and well, even in the big city, as people come together for for old-fashioned potlucks.
Karen Lingo

Cities large and small can learn more than community gardening from the Scott Park Garden Club in Decatur, Georgia. They can also pick up some lessons in neighborliness.

Families work side by side in the Scott Park Community Garden and also gather once a month for a potluck meal. "We've been having lunch together each month for about three years," says Chris Lewis, director of the club and leader of senior citizens programs for the Decatur Recreation Department. "We have a diverse community, and this provides a way for people to benefit from that diversity."

Getting To Know Each Other
Before Chris organized the lunchtime gatherings, neighbors involved in the community garden either didn't know each other or seldom saw one another. "Food really pulls people together," says club member Jean Kessler. "It's so Southern."

The meetings also allow people from different generations to interact. "The older women in the group tend to bake more, which amazes the younger women," Jean says. "The first time I baked a pound cake for the meeting, one of the younger women said, 'You made this from scratch? My grandmother used to do that.' "

According to both Chris and Jean, everyone still raves about the food once brought by Shafika Khaleel, who recently moved to Colorado. Originally from India, Shafika introduced the others to her native cuisine. "She prepared wonderful dishes with the most interesting flavors and told us how they were made," says Jean.

From international to intergenerational, the monthly gatherings have established strong ties within this Georgia community.

 

Starting Your Own
Anything that brings neighbors together benefits everyone involved. It can be as informal as several families gathering once a month to share casseroles and conversation. Or it can be as organized as a party for everyone on your block.

To start a monthly potluck meal, talk with one or two of your neighbors and get the ball rolling. You can meet at a different house each time, and then invite other families to join in after you establish a routine. The host family should make a list of what everyone plans to bring to ensure the meal includes a variety of dishes.

The Block Party
Organizing a neighborhood block party requires planning. Here are some tips.

  • Begin by having a few neighbors over to do the groundwork. This initial meeting itself is a way to build relationships, so invite not only your next-door neighbors but also others you may not know as well.
  • Pick a date that's at least a month away.
  • Decide where the party will be. If you're going to have it in someone's backyard, make sure there's enough room to accommodate everyone. If the only place large enough for the event is the street, you'll need to decide what portion of the street you want to use. Then apply to the city for a permit to close it off for a few hours on the day of the event.
  • Some cities also require insurance that covers the city in case of an accident. Check with your local government to see what's needed.
  • Think simple when it comes to food. It's easier and less expensive if you have a potluck or an ice-cream social. Ask neighbors to bring their own beverages, and have a policy in place regarding alcohol.
  • Invite everyone by distributing flyers about two weeks before the party date. Include time, location, and what to bring (beverages, chairs, etc.), as well as names and phone numbers of organizers to call if there are questions.

Taking Root
Volunteers at Scott Park Community Garden grow an amazing assortment of vegetables, flowers, and herbs in 27 small plots. Originally begun as a project for seniors in a nearby retirement community, the garden became accessible to the entire neighborhood when it moved to its current location.