Bowls of soup introduced me to 100 Canadian neighbours

This Donegal woman created an event so as to get to know the community in her town

“We both liked to cook, so my husband and I decided to make a home-made soup and invite in the neighbours,” says Grace Gerry.

“We both liked to cook, so my husband and I decided to make a home-made soup and invite in the neighbours,” says Grace Gerry.

 

Ever had 40 strangers turn up at your door for lunch? That’s what happened to us 12 years ago when my husband and I hosted our first soup event for neighbours we didn’t know. Now we know 100 by name.

Back in 2004, we had just bought our first house in Victoria, on Canada’s west coast, and didn’t know a soul on the street. I was curious as to whether we could create a community, having grown up in a small village in Donegal where everyone knew each other. We both liked to cook, so my husband and I decided to make a home-made soup and invite in the neighbours.

We created an invitation and delivered them personally to 50 houses on our street. We hoped that taking time to introduce ourselves would encourage people to come.

The day before, we tidied the house, pushed back the furniture to make space and made three large saucepans of soup.

On the day, we lit the fire, put on Christmas music and taped a welcome sign to the front door. The fire crackled and the air smelled steamy sweet from the yam and pineapple soup. Start time was noon. We had everything ready. Would anyone come?

Chatting in the kitchen

We were relieved when the doorbell rang for the first time. We welcomed the first visitors with a bowl of soup and a name tag. As the door bell rang again and again with new arrivals, the house gradually filled. Small groups stood in the kitchen chatting, while others sat in the livingroom by the fire, bowls perched on their laps. No one seemed in a rush to leave. By the time the last person had left, 40 people had come and our first soup event was a success.

Twelve years have passed and a lot has changed. Now I know 100 of my neighbours by name and our soup get-together has become an annual event.

In the summer we added other events. One year it was a barbecue, another year a gardeners’ party, a musicians’ party or an ice-cream social to celebrate Canada Day. I also started a monthly women’s group to bring women together over a cup of tea.

As relationships developed, they brought benefits. We have borrowed and loaned everything from an egg to a truck. Baked goods are exchanged and house keys entrusted. In the summertime, trays of figs, plums and peaches from neighbours’ gardens mysteriously appear on our back deck. They are a harvest of community.

Positive interaction

Building a community reminds me of knitting. Each positive interaction helps to grow and deepen connections. Whether it’s a smile, remembering someone’s name, offering a listening ear, making a cake, or delivering a sympathy card, the results are a tighter-knit and safer neighbourhood.

Three years ago, I won an award for community building, after being nominated by my neighbours. During the awards, I used my acceptance speech to acknowledge my Irish community roots and encouraged the audience to reach out to their own neighbours.

The reason I gave was this: if Victoria had a crisis, such as an earthquake and the power was out, it is not our Facebook friends we would turn to but our neighbours. The best time to get to know them is now, when things are going well.

Donegal may be a long way from western Canada, but friendliness is a currency accepted everywhere. My neighbours are no longer strangers, and when they come to the door each winter for soup, we welcome them now as friends.

Grace Gerry is a counsellor in private practice in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. For 20 tips on how to organise your own soup event, check out her tips at gracefulsolutions.ca/category/creating-community

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