MADE IN MEDFORD: Community Building Examples

We are so thrilled to share our first community recipes fundraiser calendar, “Made in Medford!” This calendar is brought to life by the effort, time and commitment of a bunch of residents in Medford, MA. The idea for this calendar fundraiser came from one of our advisors Kate Godin, a postdoc fellow at Harvard and an officer at the EHS Biosafety Program at MIT. (Kate is also the brains behind our gender and robot activity, soon to have its rerun at the Cambridge Science Festival in April 2020! Keep an eye out for it!).

The idea for this calendar project took inspiration from the Hubb Community Project, and the publication of Together: Our Community Cookbook to generate funds for the 2017 London Grenfell fire victims. It was supported and promoted by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. In the “Foreword” to the book, she touched on how cooking together melds identities in a shared space and builds connections, reflecting on the universal need to connect, nurture, and commune through food, in crisis or joy. It is this spirit and idea of a community cooking fundraiser that brought alive this calendar project.  And for each of us, it was an opportunity for the community to come together, exchange ideas, and learn from each other, while sharing stories of our families, cuisines, and cultures.

We shared our ideas with Dr. Marie Cassidy, Director of the Medford Family Network and community leader extraordinaire. Marie connected us with Lisa Tonello, the Resident Services Coordinator at Medford Public Housing who came on board from our first meeting and has been our biggest supporter making this project possible for all of us. From inviting us to the Thanksgiving Gathering at the public housing to organizing meetings and cooking sessions, Lisa was at the forefront every step of the way.

From the very outset, there were a few guidelines we set for how the project was going to unfold. Our role was to facilitate the creation of a community group, who would then drive, own, and benefit from this Project. And we laid out a tentative plan to: 

  • Identify a group of residents interested in leading and organizing the cooking class.
  • The resident group decides on the dishes they would like to showcase.
  • The recipes will be collected over the course of the year with us helping with cooking demonstrations to collect the recipes. (We were to be the extra pair of hands to help from chopping up vegetables to cleaning the kitchen.)
  • Solicit a local organization or volunteer to photograph the event/s.
  • Culminate with the production of a fundraising calendar featuring the recipes and photographs from the cooking class.

Our hope is this fundraising effort can be sustained annually with new recipe contributions from both new and old residents.

Local businesses Plough & Stars, Wegmans, and Whole Foods came through with gift cards for ingredients as did Betsy Lenora who volunteered her time to photograph the dishes for us. It was over the course of a year we had multiple meetings from planning meetings to cooking demonstrations to photography and collecting recipes, to a community potluck where all the dishes were shared! We sure, also, had glitches and gaps, and we hope to learn and remedy them as we move forward. We had delays with printing and shipping, and we hope we can find a local printer for next year. 

And why does this story needs to be told…

We felt that this experience needed to be shared as it was inspired by another community fundraising project from across the world, and we hope it encourages other individuals and communities to engage in similar efforts. As a social justice advocacy company, it was important to us that this project centered and showcased community residents, from its design to execution, where they were the decision-makers at every step of the way. The project enriched us and our families in so many different ways, building community, sharing food and stories and forging friendships across all age groups and cultures. The project truly showed us the beauty of operating from a space of cultural humility and steering clear of charity/savior mindsets. And we share this experience, hoping to inspire others as we approach the New Year. We hope we can do this next year and we hope there are many others doing the same with us!

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