Marilyn Englander: A New Village Square

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With COVID limiting traditional ways for people to gather, a new village square has emerged in many communities, and its not online. Marilyn Englander has this Perspective.

When the pandemic began, the Food Bank set up outdoor pantries around the county. Safe in open air, food could still be distributed. A solution for an emergency, it in fact created thriving new village squares.

At the pop-up where I volunteer, cars and bikes waited in a quarter mile line. All morning they inched forward to where masked volunteers loaded bags of produce, staples, milk, eggs. We also had donated pastries, so we’d ask– How about an apple pie? Kids at home – Want some cookies? Here’s a decorated cake, if you’re celebrating a birthday. We chatted and joked to keep it light, pretending we were all there for some enjoyable gathering, not fulfilling an essential need.

Week after week, the same folks appeared. We got to know each other. First, who was vegetarian or lactose-intolerant, then who was out of work, or had a newborn, or was caring for a sick parent. We began to recognize vehicles, when to switch to Spanish, when to offer little extras to a big family. We learned names, fretted when someone missed a week. The social contact and laughter were satisfying another kind of gnawing hunger.

We all felt the fundamental joy that surrounds sharing food. In the atmosphere of plenty, everyone began to open up, and talk talk talk. We swapped tips on available rentals. Someone demonstrated how to cut your own hair. A man explained he was camping in the hills for lack of housing, so we saved him choice items. Someone offered advice about yellowjackets. A frail elder shared her artwork. And of course we gossiped.

The scene grew livelier. Sheriff deputies set up a table offering various services. A COVID testing tent appeared, then a vaccination site. We gave out baby diapers and on 4th of July we waved flags.

Dragged away from our devices and out of our houses, we mingled in an impromptu village square, once again a community, nourishing both body and soul.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.