Bharathi Sethumadhavan reached out to me after reading From Baghdad to Jordan to Jersey City to invite me to the first gathering of the JC Refugee Supper Club.
Today, we’re inviting you.
If you can’t go, but still want to contribute, there’s room for that too.
Tell me about the group.
The JC Refugee Supper Club is an enthusiastic and diverse group of Jersey City-based residents from varied backgrounds. The team, (Carmin Aguiles, Tom Murphy, Trish Szymanski, Colleen Christi Willet, & Bharathi Sethumadhavan) has one common goal: to do something positive in light of terrible pain of the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
How do you know each other?
In November 2015, when the first Syrian refugees were arriving to Jersey, I worked with Church World Service (CWS) to mobilize JC’ers in an effort to help refugees move-in/settle-into their homes. CWS is one of 9 agencies commissioned by the U.S. State Department to oversee the intake and entry of refugees and asylees into the U.S., and help them resettle and rebuild their lives as they integrate themselves in their new communities.
Everyone in our group donated new and gently used furniture, clothes, toys, appliances, kitchen utensils. cookware, cribs, etc. for the families. We all were eager to start a supper club here in Jersey City similar to the ones in Montclair/Maplewood, and others throughout the country and world.
The CWS office staff here in JC has been extremely helpful in getting us the contact info and getting consent from families. We wanted to ensure their comfort with the idea, and that it wouldn’t be cumbersome, an inconvenience, or an imposition.
And the first dinner is in March?
Our inaugural supper is set for March 16th at St. Peter’s University. (Thanks Anna Brown!) As the program moves on, we will be including refugees from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Somalia, and more.
Attendees sign up online (website is in the process of being set up), and pay $50 to attend. (Can’t come? Donate anyway!) The money goes to the refugee families who cook so they can buy the food — then they keep the rest. Given the difficulty the families have had in finding work in New Jersey, and the limited resources provided by the federal government and charitable organizations, these funds are critically helpful.
However for this inaugural supper, and hopefully for the ones thereafter, we have groups and businesses willing to donate money for the ingredients and groceries for the meals/menus as suggested by the families, which we plan to buy and deliver to the families. The partners include JC Action, Mommies Heart2Heart, and Bread & Spoon.
How does it begin?
When dinner is served, everyone will sit down, introduce each other, and of course, mangia, or in this case, Tanawal El Ta’am! There is at least one person in the family that knows how to speak English, so we hope that language won’t be a major barrier. However, we have lined up talented volunteers to help with translation, and of course there’s always Google Translate. Over the course of dinner, we plan to share experiences, whether they’re about life in America, JC culture, adapting to the weather, school, day-to-day errands like shopping and laundry, favorite restaurants, hobbies, things they find interesting, and/or odd about life in general here in the US.
What expectations do you have?
No pressure whatsoever. This is meant to be a safe space for eating and getting to know each other. We want this to be completely comfortable for the families. Given the political atmosphere of the refugee experience, this is about getting to know and learning from each other, and most of all, building and helping them acclimate to the community. It is designed to be a mutual learning experience and a celebration of new beginnings.
What hopes do you have?
The crux of the JC Refugee Supper Club is based on inclusivity. The more people do, the more funds and awareness we can raise. We also want to highlight the immense contributions that refugees add to our society. Most refugees are extremely grateful for their opportunity to live here, but we and they sometimes ignore their added value to our lives. They are well aware that they are demonized. Thus, we wish to highlight their contributions and talents (i.e. rich culture, history, food, their traditions, etc.), and for the guests, it’s an opportunity to get outside their bubble to meet people different from them.
Tickets are on sale at here. This link can also be used to donate. Save 3/16 if you want to attend.
Cover photo from taken from Los Angeles Magazine, credit Miry Whitehill. In Text photo taken from SFFunCheap.com