For many of us, the holiday season is a time of coming together with family and friends, old and new. We gather and connect. We eat, tell stories and maybe even find time to bicker about politics. Within our communities, there is often someone who convenes and creates this heart-warming and bubbly feeling of togetherness we experience during the holidays. We all hold a special gratitude for these conveners, connectors and community-builders who make special occasions so memorable and heartwarming.
Do you know someone who builds community all year long?
Her name is Vrinda Quintero. Vrinda is a community organizer for the Beach Flats neighborhood, a homeless services advocate and owner of Areperia831. She brings people together and builds community by cooking and sharing delicious vegan and vegetarian food, that boasts scintillating flavors from her homeland Venezuela, from India and beyond. Vrinda believes that every person deserves yummy and nutritional food and that sharing food is the most important tool, albeit the first step, to bridging differences between people, resolving conflict and coming up with solutions that make our communities and our environment stronger. She expands on this belief, sharing that eating food together has a way of making everyone feel loved, feel valuable and feel powerful.
Vrinda is a River Champion. She has a deep love for the San Lorenzo River and knows its integral role in the history and future of the Beach Flats and Santa Cruz community. Indeed, the San Lorenzo River is the original convener that brought us all to the area we now call Santa Cruz. Vrinda leads community events that protect and celebrate the San Lorenzo River and its surrounding neighborhoods and parks. Coastal Watershed Council is fortunate to partner with Vrinda on neighborhood cleanups in Beach Flats and a community story-telling event.
When we get together to share a meal, a story, a smile, or to play, the field gets even, even for an hour, and we are all just people. Eating together, hearing each other out, extending a hand and our own heart to somebody else’s experience. Community is built in our connection to nature, to each other and the ultimate responsibility that comes from that: when you love somebody you must help them thrive.
The Share a Meal, Share a Story event in San Lorenzo Park had been a dream of Vrinda’s for some time. She envisioned a community lunch, where people from all different backgrounds could eat together and then share their stories. Indeed, in mid-November, over 40 Santa Cruzans came together at the San Lorenzo Park Duck Pond, enjoyed steaming bowls of bean stew, rice and cornbread, all crafted by Vrinda and friends, and told stories. Participants left feeling invigorated by the community they had created at the park.
Participant Margo Ross shared, “I loved the event – the way it brought together a community of folks whose paths cross along the river, but who don’t typically socialize or listen to one another’s stories. It felt like a great way to begin building bridges. The food was amazing, and I was inspired by Vrinda’s commitment to creating community and social/economic justice through her non-profit business model.”