Building Community, One Meal at a Time

Posted by Tamrah Schaller ONeil on July 9th 2009 in Organizations Edit

Onion and garlic sautéing with hot oil in a pan is a common denominator of most cultures. When Marnita Schroedl and Carl Goldstein cook for one of their events, their guests feel a touch of home, enriched by the aroma of sautéed garlic. Together Marnita and Carl have welcomed nearly 4,900 people into their Minneapolis home by hosting more than 125 meals.

You may be thinking, 4,900 friends? Why would you invite that many people over for dinner, and is that really possible? It is for the wife and husband who started the nonprofit Marnita’s Table with the goal of bringing together socially, culturally and economically diverse groups of people for what Marnita calls “intentional social interaction.”

Intentional social interaction builds community based on trust and understanding across cultural divides, according to Marnita. She believes that this is the solution to stopping racial inequality. On a night I joined the table, half the guests were people of color, and half were white.

It was a lot of fun. After the event Marnita explained the methods she used to make the gathering feel welcoming. For example, nobody wore nametags. She said that when a group is from the same tribe, group, or family, no one wears nametags. Secondly, she went on to say, she usually serves stew, a commonality between cultures that brings the appeal and smell of home. The guests were also given conversation questions to ask and answer as we ate dinner together. The questions highlighted our cultural similarities and shared values.

At the end of the evening, Marnita asked if we could go around the room and listen to each of the forty-some people share what they were going to take away from the evening. I said that I planned to have more dinner parties like Marnita’s. A woman I had spoken with over dinner said something similar. Before I left I asked her when we should have dinner together and we exchanged email addresses.

Last week her family was over along with another couple, and we shared great conversation over wine, tuna steaks, orzo, salad and bread. We were three couples of different races, enjoying a beautiful summer evening and letting our kids stay up past their bedtimes. It was a great time and I look forward to doing it again.

Marnita’s Table

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