Nirvana sings, “Come as you are ... as a friend.” And this is precisely the invitation that is extended by Steve North as he welcomes guests to attend the LifeLine Community Dinner. Brigadoon-like, the event comes alive at 5:30 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month.
If you need a meal, or if you want one. If you need companionship or want to offer it. If you simply want to have a hearty dinner with nice people, you are invited to attend. There are no restrictions and no requirements, and very few rules. Respect for the property, for the hosts, for the other guests, and for the neighbors are the primary expectations.
PHOTO GALLERY: Lifeline Community Dinner
LifeLine Toledo — an organization which, according to its website, “exists to create an organic, missional, spiritual community in Toledo, and to help lift the city out of poverty” — provides a veritable feast of grilled chicken, burgers (beef and vegetarian), hot dogs, pork chops, vegetable kabobs, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, and potato salad. There is usually a fruit salad, too.
And while guests are told there is no need to bring anything, desserts are always a nice addition to the buffet table. Whether the turnout is low, as it can sometimes be in bad weather, or whether the crowd fills every corner of the house and spills out into the back yard, onto the front porch, and over to the neighbor‘s driveway, the food has never run out. It is reminiscent of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with limited resources. There always seems to be enough for everyone.
Mr. North, according to his biographical statement on the LifeLine Toledo website, is “a pastor to many poets and other artists, homeless and near-homeless people, and folks at various stages of religious skepticism, spiritualism and genuine faith.” At last month’s dinner, in a brief welcome before guests headed into the kitchen to fill their plates, he said “I hope you meet new people, people you didn‘t come with.”
People you might not have any other opportunity to encounter in your daily life, he might have added.
Because where else might a young yoga teacher who has taught English in Cambodia, a runner who remembers the early days of punk rock, a dedicated minister‘s wife, a busy photographer, a couple of newlyweds, an advocate for homeless veterans, a digital collage artist, a jazz guitarist, a University of Toledo computer programmer, a recent college graduate about to embark upon a Master’s program in public health, and a man who drives a trinket-laden “Art in Motion” truck all get together to share an evening and a meal?
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At the LifeLine dinner, if you don‘t make new friends then it‘s certainly no one’s fault but your own. Conversations take place about everything from family life to international travels to the different varieties of skunks to online dating to veganism, then continue on to entirely different subjects as new people sit down at the table and others move to a different group. Everyone bonds and builds community over food. The topics are as varied as the guests.
As the LifeLine website notes:
“This community is as unique and creative as the people who make it up. We feel like we‘re best defined by the words community, artistry, service and entrepreneurialism. We are diverse in every way imaginable, but the real beauty and power of our life together is that there is simply no reason to try to figure out who‘s who. Here, every person belongs and is valued for who they are, not based on some arbitrary merit. Here, people are not measured by what they do or how well they do it, but each affirms, encourages, challenges and celebrates the others for whatever they do.”
Whether you come at 6 p.m. just as the first helpings of food are coming off the grill, whether you come ‘round 9 p.m. for the open mic session and performances of music and poetry, or whether you come early and then stay past midnight ... any and all options are perfectly alright. Every person contributes and every interaction is valued.
At each dinner, Mr. North says, “This is the best night of the month and the best place to be.” Many regulars would agree. The dinners began in 2007 and have continued, with new faces and old friends, month after month.
Jessica Markowitz has been attending since last fall, and initially came for the poetry readings. “It is such a welcome and supportive group of people,” she says. “There is such a freedom to just be yourself. People are so open to engage in conversation, but if you don‘t want to talk, there‘s no pressure.”
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The LifeLine Community Dinners are held at 2725 Collingwood Avenue in Toledo. The house had been owned by another couple until very recently, but now belongs to Shawn and Stephanie Parker who were married by Mr. North just a few weeks ago. Despite the change in hosts, the gracious space continues to welcome the community for a meal.
Ms. Markowitz says: “The hospitality of opening one‘s home to share food and life is so humbling and so special to take part in!”
In closing the grace before the June dinner, Mr. North said, “Let there be a lot of joy and peace in this house.” While there are generous servings of food to nourish the body, joy and peace and friendship are all found in abundance to feed the soul.
For more information about the LifeLine Community Dinners, please go to lifelinetoledo.com.
- 3 cups corn kernels (from grilled corn, if possible)
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 small red peppers, finely diced
- 2 small orange peppers, finely diced
- 6 large scallions, chopped
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- juice of 2 large limes
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce
Black Bean and Corn Salad
This is a flavorful, colorful salad that’s easy to make. It complements a variety of foods beautifully, and keeps well at a buffet.
Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Place the cumin seeds in a small skillet; toast over low heat for 1-2 minutes, just until fragrant. Place into a small mixing bowl and combine with the rest of the dressing ingredients; whisk to combine, then pour over the salad and mix well. Let the salad rest for 30 minutes or more, for the flavors to blend.
Serves 12 or more as a side dish.
Source: Mary Bilyeu