2020/2021 has been a challenging year to say the least. Unwillingly, we found ourselves thrown into a brand-new world in March 2020. – A world where fostering belonging became much more difficult. Nourish tries to boost people’s Vitamin F. Indeed, through our work we seek to cultivate Friendships and a sense of belonging through Food.
Social connections are essential to our health and well-being. As Wilkinson and Pickett highlight in The Inner Level, “[o]ver the last thirty to forty years, a large number of studies have shown that having a network of close friends, good relationships and involvement with others is extraordinarily beneficial to health.” When evaluating the impact of our series, we look to see if participants have made new connections with others. Attending community dinners, participating in cooking workshops, joining a community garden, or being a food box contact, all offer many opportunities to make friends. When most of our connections become virtual, and when strangers are perceived as potential vectors of infection, it’s a lot harder to create meaningful relationships. So, we were not surprised to see, as the year unfolded, participants experiencing growing rates of social isolation. We explored avenues to counter this change through new initiatives (see the Amplifying Voices in Our Community page) and we know that this is a challenge that we are going to face even more forcefully this coming year. Due to the circumstances of the pandemic, our social muscles have not been exercised enough, and we will need practice to strengthen them again.
The pandemic increased the level of loneliness, particularly among marginalized community members, and it also shed a crude light on the inequities already present in our community. As a result, we modified our overall approach and gave more prominence to our access-to-healthy-food programming. Yet we know that while these programs can support participants struggling to put good food on their tables, they do not alter rates of food insecurity. This is why we explored more ways to engage community members who care about this issue, to educate them about the root cause of food insecurity, and to get them involved in fostering equity.
This past year, phone conversations dominated our work. This led us to the decision to place greater emphasis on participants’ and partners’ stories in this Impact Report. That’s why we created a storybook which illustrates how the pandemic impacted participants, and how our work with them made a difference in their lives. The speech bubbles you will see in this report all represent feedback we received from participants. Each core component of our work – eating, gardening, cooking, and advocating – thread together all the stories we collected.
We also heard from many food groups this past year. They wanted to find out how we were navigating the pandemic. Many asked us to help them engage participants more actively and boost their sense of possibility. We decided to conclude this report by offering a metaphor and suggestions which, hopefully, will be useful in fostering more connections, and continuously pushing for a future where everyone in our community is able to feed themselves and their families well, with dignity.