Heartwarming Cobequid Supper Club bringing community together

Started by Masstown area woman to combat isolation PRE-COVID

CHELSEY GOULD TRURO NEWS chelsey.gould @saltwire.com



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Truro News

GREAT VILLAGE - Even before COVID, Annie Phillips recognized the feeling of isolation in her community. Phillips, who lives near Masstown, was dealing with postpartum depression after the birth of her second child in the fall of 2019. “That saying, 'it takes a village to raise a child' – well, I think it takes a village to raise a mother too, and I didn't feel like I had a village,” said Phillips. She was not alone. During committee consultations regarding the West Colchester Community Development Association, people longing for a sense of community stood out to her. Fewer people attend churches, a traditional central meeting spot. “The advent of social media is a great tool in some ways, but it's also very isolating,” said Phillips. “It's not face-toface real interactions … that was one of the reasons I think we're in this sort of, even PRECOVID, social isolation happening ... just not having this regular place to gather.” Wanting to help foster those connections, she thought about free food as a universal motivator, which can easily be used as a gathering tool for a wide demographic. She applied under the association’s umbrella for a grant from the Along the Shore Community Health Board, which serves the Fundy Shore stretch from Five Islands to Onslow, to run free, one-pot community meals. The first Cobequid Supper Club dinner came to fruition in February of 2020 at the Great Village Legion as a "phenomenal” success, running out of food with roughly 75 to 100 meals provided. “Annie's got some wonderful recipes and she's a great cook," said Cheryl Myers, chair of Along the Shore. “She can make a pot of soup that everybody wants to be there for … not everybody can put on a soup pot and make it for a community. Annie can, and it can taste delicious and homey.” “She brought the community in. She got people together,” said Myers. Takeout was available, but people were enticed to linger and socialize with games like Cribbage and a kids' corner hosted by teens. “Selfishly like, I'm a parent of young kids, and I want to actually talk to other adults," said Phillips. “To be able to do that, you need something that's going to keep your kids busy.” Then, the world shut down with the onset of COVID. The isolation that Phillips felt became even more stagnant in the community, with people unable to gather. In June, Phillips knew she needed to do something, with the area reeling from the tragic April attacks. With the help of a United Way grant and Maggie’s Place, they extended a “food hug” with chicken soup takeout in Bass River. “This was the heart of the lockdown," said Phillips. “It was just a really awful time and it just felt like, this is a really token thing to do, but it's something. You know, we can make soup.” Just seeing someone at a takeout window and having comradery in the kitchen, “gabbing and carrying on,” was special. Everyone pitched in, and donated ingredients poured in from Masstown Market, Meredith’s Farm, and butter tarts and buns from Great Village Pizza. After a squash soup and a pumpkin giveaway in the fall, outdoor community events continued in 2021. Several collaborations with community organizations and businesses enhanced the distanced face-to-face and outdoor recreation experiences. This included various turkey takeouts and picnics, a five-week slow cooking program, walks at the Mi'kmawey Debert Interpretive Trail and Macelmons Pond Provincial Park, and chili during the Fundy Shore Winter Carnival and hodge podge in Debert. There was also a chowder takeout where people took home food and a felt heart – connecting online after for a session on grief with counsellor Serena Lewis. Myers’ reaction to Phillip’s original application was that it looked like something that would “taste and be good.” “(The board's) goal is to bring the community together, support and meet needs of the community – whether it's psychological or emotional or physical, or whether you're talking about a lack of food,” said Myers. Food insecurity has only increased during COVID, and rural areas are more at risk with lack of access and transportation to grocery stores. When schools were closed, kids were unable to access breakfast programs. Local religious institutions and organizations put organized gatherings on pause. Nova Scotia has the highest rate of food insecurity among Canadian provinces. According to Feed Nova Scotia, one in six Nova Scotian households are food insecure. In the case of leftovers, those are dropped off to people who could not make it out. “That was actually so much fun, on the way home from doing a meal, having a bunch of pots of soup and just being like, ‘Hmm, who do I want to give a food hug to?’” said Phillips. “And knocking on doors.” She tries to offer vegan options sometimes. If someone does have a dietary conflict and they do not have food available, they have no problem with someone bringing their own food. Phillips would also like to offer the suppers as a break and an opportunity to connect with migrant workers working at local farms. A pancake breakfast welcoming newcomers was scheduled last fall, but came to a halt due to high case counts. Trying to plan within changing COVID restrictions did lead to some burnout, and suppers have been on pause since then as Phillips recharges. Now, they are ramping up for two upcoming suppers in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association (originally scheduled for last February) from 5 to 6 p.m. on May 18 and June 15 at the Great Village Legion. From 6 to 8 p.m. there will be sessions on mental health and then stress management (registration requested). At the accommodating and welcoming space, attendees are welcome to bring things to work their hands with like knitting or crocheting, if they would like. And though it “hasn’t sunk in yet” for Phillips, this will mark a return to the sit-down supper format she originally intended. “It's just to get the community together and to continue healing,” said Myers. “Breaking bread is part of what we as a community have always done together.” Those who would like to help or have questions can email cobequidsupperclub@gmail.com or join the Facebook group.