ST. ALBANS — Around 4 p.m. yesterday, people slowly trickled into Jeff’s Restaurant for a tasty meal and some good company. Bob Begley, a secular Franciscan brother, stood greeting everyone at the door, welcoming them, showing them nametags, and gently leading them to the large group of tables in the middle of the otherwise closed restaurant.
Everyone was also asked to post at least one good thing they were grateful for on the “gratitude board” behind the table.
Begley, along with Judy Kennedy, former pastor of the First Congregational Church of St. Albans, Cathy Cromack, local resident and practicing Buddhist, and Assistant Judge Kelly Gosselin, put together Community Soup, a gathering which meets every second Sunday of the month. The regular meetings began in November 2013, with every one taking place at Jeff’s except for on Mother’s Day.
“Jeff’s was very kind to open their doors to us at the beginning,” said Begley.
With the help of the restaurant’s space and volunteers to cook the food and set up, Community Soup hopes to accomplish several things: to provide a nutritious meal for those who wanted one, to be a space where everyone can feel comfortable and on an equal plane, and to focus on the good things happening in people’s lives.
“There’s so much good out there,” Begley said.
“[The] goal is to just be a place where everybody can come together,” added Gosselin. “It’s really just about getting to know people, building community.”
A good meeting
Over 15 people showed up to yesterday’s gathering to eat and share, though Begley said that number is low compared to other meetings. “Our average is 25, 26,” he said, adding that their highest number of attendees so far has been 35. Different people come every meeting.
“That’s what’s amazing,” Begley said. “We get the standard few that repeat, but every month we’ve had new people.”
At around 4:15 p.m., Begley officially began the meeting, asking each person around the table, identified by first name only, to list one good thing about St. Albans and one positive thing happening in his or her life.
People of all different ages shared their thoughts, which were as varied as their backgrounds: new residents, lifelong residents, grandparents, new parents-to-be, young professionals, those who were recently employed, and so on.
Despite how different many of the meeting’s attendees were, many saw St. Albans in a positive light: it’s a good place to walk, a nice place to meet people, it has a beautiful waterfront and green hills, it’s accessible, it’s not too large, and more recently, many people have been out and about in the city.
“I think this is really cool,” said Matt, an attendee who was glad for the city’s revitalization.
Those at the meeting also shared good things happening in their personal lives: new apartments, better health, new jobs and job shadows, grandkids, the prospect of a new family, getting engaged, a good church service, reconnecting with family, and incidentally, another opportunity for connecting with the community: Front Porch Forum (FPF).
“We just got our place on Friday,” said attendee Brian. He and his partner, Brenda, needed a mattress, and after posting on FPF, Brian said it took little to no time at all to find what they were looking for.
“It took five minutes,” he said. Brian added that the online forum takes away any fear or discouragement of saying he can’t afford something when people are so willing to help.
“It’s definitely a wonderful thing to have,” he said. “I love the Front Porch Forum.”
While many attendees had good news to share, some were dealing with difficult situations. They were encouraged by the others at the table to see the positive side of what was happening, and to continue moving forward.
“We can all relate to disappointing news,” said Begley. “Just continue on.”
Other attendees shared bad experiences that turned into positive opportunities. Couple Ane and Matt, for instance, had planned to kayak for a fundraiser on Sunday, but due to thunderstorms, had to cancel. They came to Community Soup instead.
“There are always more opportunities,’ said Ane. “I’m glad we’re here.”
Food for thought
After going around everyone at the table, Begley spoke about the benefits of having shared and listened to others.
“What we just did right now,” he said, “we spent most of the time listening. We don’t have enough of that in our lives.” Begley added that listening to others, living in the present, and acknowledging what’s happening in the moment can be very helpful, and uplifting.
“This is very powerful,” he said.
The food portion of the meeting then began, with all sorts of salads, drinks, and of course, soup – both a cold watermelon soup and a more traditional, warm one – being offered. Attendees broke into smaller groups to chat, perhaps going more in-depth about their lives with other community members at the table.
Though yesterday’s meeting was a bit smaller than normal, Begley said Community Soup would continue meeting at Jeff’s every month regardless, since people always come and seem to crave the company, small or large.
“There’s hunger for the good,” Begley said.