A Tofino Potluck for Japan

I’ve been tardy writing this because I felt like I wouldn’t do the whole justice. Or I’d come across as overly gushy (I’m not afraid of that part anymore, but consider yourself warned) or not gushy enough. Our Sunday dinner this past weekend was truly one of the best of my life. I could tell by the fact that I spent much of it focused on not bursting into tears. (See? I’m doing it already.)

Remember last week, when I rambled on a bit about the concept of a potluck, and offered up $25 gift cards to anyone who wanted to do something swell with one of them? Just to spread some happiness around at a time when the world seems to sorely need it? (I still have more, by the way, if you have an idea. Let me know in the comments and I’ll email you.) I got an email from Adrienne, who lives out here in Tofino, who was inspired to organize a potluck with her daughters to not only bring people in the community together to share a meal, but to raise funds for the Canadian Red Cross in support of Japan. They reserved the hall, planted the seed (mostly via email and social media), enlisted the help of a graphic artist friend to make up posters and others to contribute things like hand-made origami flowers that required 12 pieces of paper apiece to create. I’m so grateful that she was able to pull it together so quickly – in under a week – so that I could be a part of it.

People arrived in the late afternoon to decorate – mismatched linens from various homes to cover the tables, with glass jars, bottles and vases holding greens, flowers and handmade Japanese flags.

They put origami paper and instructions on each table to give people something to do as they waited for their turn at the buffet. Adrienne fretted that people wouldn’t come – or perhaps too many would. Of course they did – a trickle at first, and then waves of neighbours bringing pots, bowls and trays of homemade food. Soon everyone was jockeying for space on the table.

This is my idea of a potluck. If you plan it, they will come.

In true West coast fashion, the tables were divided into “meat-free” and “wheat-free”, the gluten-free baking outnumbering the wheat-based kind. There was much vegan, and those that weren’t were labeled, almost as an anomaly.

Everyone happily unpacked their own plates and forks once they settled at a table, many choosing Japanese-style ceramic bowls to eat out of.

The four folding tables barely accommodated the food that was brought – samosas, pasta dishes, buckwheat noodles, scalloped potatoes, fried rice, sushi, lentils with apples, nut loaf with nut butter gravy, shrimp and scallops and salmon, cheesy polenta…

dips and spreads and breads and hard boiled eggs in a spicy tomato sauce – there were no duplicates, and everything was totally unique and completely fabulous. (In fact, the menu was varied enough to make a great cookbook, I think. But I’m afraid to ask Adrienne to hunt everyone down and ask them for their recipes.)

The food of course was a personal extension of everyone there. We were all feeding each other, nourishing that appetite for good company around the table. Everyone talked about what they were eating, asking about those dishes they were interested in – who made it? how? what’s in it? – a great reminder of how skilled and creative home cooks are.

Before we ate, Adrienne reminded us all of what’s happening in Japan, and asked for a moment of silence. She read a bit from one of her favourite children’s books, Imagine a Day by Sarah Thomson:

imagine a day…
when the peace of a forest
and the strength of a mountain
become a cathedral
for your heart.

imagine a day…
when we build a moat
not to keep strangers out,
but to welcome them in.

(A part she didn’t read:
imagine a day…
when your sand castle
can withstand
even the highest waves.)

And then we dug in. Rarely have I felt such a strong sense of community. (And yet we were outsiders, geographically speaking.) The age range was under a year old to over ninety, and everyone laughed and chatted as if it were a huge Christmas dinner with family they hadn’t seen in years.

Over the course of the evening the conversations frequently turned to “doing this more often” – as much as anything, it was a powerful reminder of the importance of sharing a homemade meal with those people you share your community with, and how easy it is to ask everyone to bring something, and what an amazing spread you wind up with when you do it that way.

There was even dessert.

In the end, about 140 people showed up and $2105 was raised for Japan. Including the contents of Toby’s piggy bank. And the evening has inspired me to go home and plan a great many more potlucks. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to everyone who helped out and attended the dinner on Sunday. I do hope you have more.


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23 comments on “A Tofino Potluck for Japan

  1. Colleen
    April 6, 2011 at 4:26 am

    Great post Julie, you had me crying.

  2. Michelle
    April 6, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Goosebumps all over. Amazing work – true inspiration.

    My husband cleaned out his closet over the weekend and we had a box of clothes for the thrift shop. As I went to take the box, I noticed three new packs of socks that he never open, a gift from my Grandma during the holidays. I remember coming across a man who was organizing distribution of socks during the recovery process in Japan. I snagged the socks, found more new socks in my closet and I am going to pack them up and send off this week.


  3. stacey snacks
    April 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

    What a gorgeous spread!
    I wish I could find shrimp and salmon that fresh and beautiful.
    Great post.

  4. Fiona
    April 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

    What a lovely, lovely idea.

  5. suchalab
    April 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

    well worth the wait for this one Julie, made me teary reading and enjoying the lovely pics of the tremendous spread you enjoyed. What a fabulous experience, thanks for sharing.

  6. Vivian
    April 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Truly, a thing of BEAUTY. Humbling to see the spur-of-the-moment groundswell of human kindness, enthusiasm and empathy…a sharing, not only in concern for our fellow humans, but literally, the senses, heritage, flavours, colours, textures, patterns (the little girl in the two kinds of florals ~ leggings and hoodie!). A sweet melange that moved my heart. What a metaphor: a coming together of all disparate elements, just like human beings all over the planet moving as a focussed force for good. Would that we could commit to live this way all year long…and so glad to hear “We’ve got to do this more often!” (Gee, I guess I’ve turned kinda “gushy” now too!)

  7. Mariko
    April 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

    I am a Japanese living in the U.S. I can’t express how much we appreciate all your kindness. Thank you so very much!! We are going through a difficult time but I’m glad to know that the incident helped people to get together and made the community tie stronger. It made me feel good to know something good is happening. 🙂

  8. Jan @ Family Bites
    April 6, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Truly inspiring. I’m in awe of just how many people came together for this. What a lovely community.

  9. CathyD
    April 6, 2011 at 10:04 am

    You are such a good write.

    That totally made ME cry.

  10. JulieVR
    April 6, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Vivian- I should have had YOU write it for me! Great summary.

  11. Kathy
    April 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Must include warnings at beginning of posts like these: May Incite Crying. *sniff* Truly inspiring!

  12. the garlic rose
    April 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Amazing! I have several Japanese friends and I’m passing this along to them – I know that they will appreciate this outpouring of love from one community to another. Thanks for posting this!

  13. Adrienne
    April 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks for the post and the inspiration, Julie. It WAS a wonderful evening. It was important not to overthink the whole thing. Yes, there was planning but it did come together pretty organically (so to speak) – word-of-mouth, social media, and a willing group of people. The, “Oh, what the hell, let’s just do it and see what happens” attitude made it all the more special for me because it really worked thanks to the spirit of a wonderful community. Safe travels home!

  14. Laurie from Burnaby
    April 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Wonderful post. I’ve given what I can, but I do look up to you and what you do

  15. Barbara
    April 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I’m crying now too. Thank you for sharing this.

  16. Erin M
    April 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Wow! Amazing, If I’d only known I’m so close in port alberni, was there on Saturday too. Very impressive. Gave me goosebumps as well 🙂

  17. Lana in South Mountain (ON)
    April 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Going to post this on my FB page. Love, love, LOVE IT.
    am currently busy with new step-grandchild but when all settle down, I might plan one of these in our community!
    Way to go, Tofino. I knew I loved you, even before this!

  18. Maggie Muggins
    April 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    What a beautiful thing! It’s amazing how many people came together in support of this cause. It makes my heart swell to see such a caring community.

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