Community Potlucks Return
by Maureen McGarry
In a Wildberries Marketplace thronged with returning college students, Anne Hartline and Wesley Chesbro sip coffee at a small table overflowing with papers and electronic devices. As co-coordinators of the community-building “Home Away from Home” potlucks, they are eager to share ideas for this year's events and to discuss opportunities for volunteer involvement.
Both are members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and are encouraging community members to join in. The first potluck takes place from 5 to 7 pm on Sunday, September 9th at the D Street Neighborhood Center at 13th and D in Arcata. After a successful first year, this program continues in collaboration with Equity Arcata, a partnership of city officials, Humboldt State University representatives, community members, local businesses, and nonprofits. In an effort to make Arcata a more inclusive and welcoming environment for people of color, this group has initiated a variety of campaigns that address issues related to housing, law enforcement, diversity and inclusion training, bias response, and information resources.
“As an Arcata resident, it is very important to me that all people feel welcomed and valued here,” says Hartline, a retired public school teacher who is currently a lecturer at Humboldt State. “HSU is a critical part of our community in so many ways. I want all HSU students to feel at home in Arcata, and I hope they will come to love Humboldt County as much as I do.”
Chesbro, our former California State Senator, is volunteering his time to “help make the community more welcoming to the diverse HSU student body, and to address racial and other disparities.
“It’s a team effort,” observes Hartline about working with Chesbro. Both are eager to share their lists of items donated by local businesses. These items will be part of the free raffle held at each the four potlucks throughout the school year.
HSU sophomore Christian Boyd, a student assistant in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and chair of the Student Diversity Committee, recalls her impressions of last year’s potlucks. “They were very welcoming, inviting, and warm.” Boyd especially enjoyed the benefit of the free stuff table. This year’s theme is “Setting up house.” Donations of housewares and toiletries are requested.
“I think the potlucks are wonderful events,” says Dr. Cheryl Johnson, Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Humboldt State University, who works in close partnership with the City of Arcata in the growth and development of Equity Arcata. “There is a universal feeling that comes with sharing food. It is a chance to meet and network with each other. Everything we do doesn’t need to be about policy. We can just feel good sharing food, laughter, and getting to know one another, especially students of color meeting our community members.”
In the week before classes began, Chesbro and Johnson spent time on campus greeting students and parents, welcoming them to the community.
“This gives me the opportunity to help address community problems while getting to know the current generation of HSU students, and at the same time put my experience and knowledge to work,” says Chesbro. “The university is the lifeblood of our community. It is so important that students of all backgrounds feel welcome and included in all aspects of life in this community.”
Toward the end of their morning meeting, Hartline and Chesbro struggle to extract some emails from an Excel spreadsheet. Students at a nearby table come to their rescue, and are, of course, invited to the upcoming potluck. It is yet another example of how we can all help each other to become a better community.
Community members are asked to bring a home cooked dish enough to serve 8 to 10 people. For information about how to get involved, contact RSVP at 630-5081, or email email@example.com.