A feast of flavours brings people together in the Fraser Valley

Sand and Rim with one of the many dishes they prepared for the Sardis Intercultural Dinner. The pair met at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chilliwack where they both worked as cooks.

On a crisp Winter evening recently in the Fraser Valley, the commercial kitchen at the Sardis Community Church was filled with a flurry of activity and a bouquet of aromas.

Chef Rim, her 15-year-old daughter Jennifer and her good friend Sand spent an afternoon and early evening preparing a Syrian banquet for local residents and neighbours.

“I like the people here. I would like them to try food from another culture, so they can try and see if it’s good or not. But, I’m sure it’s good,” Rim says with a laugh. Rim and her three children have been in Canada for four years. They moved to Chilliwack, from Syria, as refugees sponsored by a local church.

“[Canada] is a more peaceful place. The people here are really nice, very helpful because I’m a single mom,” Rim says.

Safe, but lonely

Thirty-five percent of Fraser Valley residents say they only talk to their neighbours once a week.

As a newcomer to the community, even with this support, Rim sometimes found herself lonely. She’s not the only one.

76-year-old Susan also moved to Chilliwack four years ago with her English Cocker Spaniel, Oliver. Being new to the community, like Rim, Susan has struggled to connect with others in the area.

According to a survey released earlier this year, almost 46 per cent of BC residents say they sometimes feel lonely. And in the Fraser Valley, only 27 percent feel a strong sense of connection to their city or community.

Now the good news – Fraser Valley residents are more likely to volunteer in groups several times per year – about 21 percent – as compared to BC’s average of 13 percent.

Hi Neighbour brings people together

Rim sharing her culinary delights with dinner guests and Community Engagement Specialist Andrea, in red, and fellow Sardis resident Susan, in white.

When a friend introduced Rim to United Way’s Fraser Valley Community Engagement Specialist, Andrea Dykshoorn, the idea of bringing people together through an intercultural dinner was born.

“United Way’s Hi Neighbour initiative is working to reduce loneliness and isolation by helping residents think creatively about building community,” says Andrea.

Andrea connected Rim with Kevin Kavanagh, who is on the Community Impact Team at the Sardis Community Church. The team supports local organizations and encourages members to volunteer their time.

“I think it’s neat that United Way reached out to us,” Kevin says.  We’re just so excited because we’ll often sit down as a community impact group and say what can we do…and then out of nowhere appears Andrea saying I’ve got these people who would really like to make connections. [It’s] brilliant.”

Caring folks making a difference

Folks getting ready to enjoy the meal.

The Hi Neighbour Initiative brings together committed, passionate individuals like Rim, Sand and Kevin and helps them make a difference in their community in ways that matter most to them.

With support from the Sardis Hi Neighbour Local Love Fund, Rim was able to buy the ingredients she needed for this special dinner.

“It’s a big chance for me to meet Canadian people and talk to them and make friends,” Rim says.

“This is very important to [my mom],” says Jennifer. “She’s making her favourite foods and sharing it with other people.”

About twenty people savoured fattoush, a salad, and shawarma, among other Middle Eastern dishes.

Making friends starts right where you are

New friends Susan and Sand coming together to build community.

“I hope that Rim will have more contacts with people in the community…that we’ll be able to see her outside of this,” says Kevin. “The big thing is we want to make friends with people we don’t know.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Sand and Susan are two of those new friends.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The people were kind and friendly,” Susan says. “The girl from Syria and the one from Thailand. I thought [it] was wonderful.”

“I would love to do it again,” Rim says. And it looks like that’s going to happen with the group already planning another get together sometime in the New Year. On the menu – home-cooked Thai food.

Hi Neighbour Initiatives are underway in seven other neighbourhoods across the Lower Mainland including Cedar Valley in Mission, Clayton Heights in Surrey, Edmonds in Burnaby, Lower Lonsdale in North VancouverSunset in Vancouver and Willoughby in Langley.

More information about Hi Neighbour can be found at https://www.uwlm.ca/sardis/