September 26, 2020

BY SEAN MALINOWSKI

Are you looking for unique dinner plans this Wednesday night?

Al Parrish and Wendy Pearle have hosted a weekly neighbourhood potluck at their Kitchener home for more than 450 consecutive weeks. Every Wednesday evening, they tidy the house, make some pizza or chili, and open their doors. Attendance varies each week, with the average number ranging between 10 and 20 attendees. Occasionally they’ll see just five or six. Sometimes they’ll get up to 30 or 40.

Regardless of the number of people, the demographics of the crowd is always different as well. The potluck brings in newborns, teens, grown-ups and seniors, all brushing shoulders and engaging in conversations under the snug layout of their Duke Street home. Guests can choose where they would like to eat, either on the newly built deck, or in a comfy spot in the living room. Both Parrish and Pearle create such a welcoming environment that even the most averse neighbour will eventually join in.

“People can be a little hesitant at first,” Parrish said. “But they come around.”

Their last potluck had an average crowd. Families funneled in as if it was their own home. Parrish and Pearle knew them all by name. They smile and ask how their guests’ weeks have been.

Unlike normal dinner hosts who are eager to please and impress, they are both relaxed, serving the meal with ease. Attendees talk over the sounds of forks meeting plates, while kids run laughing in and out of the house.

The potluck is famous in the community, enough so that new home owners are aware of its existence far before Parrish or Pearle have the time to formally invite them. They all show up at different times, bringing all sorts of different foods, from casseroles to pastries.

Parrish said it’s not a hassle for them. They always get plenty of help with the dishes, and enjoy the abundance of tasty leftovers their guests leave them. What they really get out of it is far better than a fridge full of Tupperware.

“I’ll be making dinner anyway, might as well have some company,” Parrish said. “By far, the most important thing we get out of it is the community.”

A trusting community at that. The potluck has developed many new relationships in the Duke Street neighbourhood. So when fellow neighbours need a pet looked after or someone to babysit their child, they know that help is literally doors away.

“We borrow each other’s cars, pools, lawn mowers,” Pearle said. “It’s like an unofficial neighbourhood watch, we know everybody.”

The pair got the idea for the potluck from living in an eco-village in Ithaca, N.Y., where the community would meet for meals several times a week. When they moved to Kitchener eight years ago, Pearle wanted to incorporate that lifestyle into their new community. The potluck has been going eight years strong ever since.

“I didn’t want just a mailbox wave,” Pearle said. “Breaking bread with people, it enhances and brings more depth to your life.”

Parrish, a second-year radio broadcast student, has had a few fellow Condors stop in for the potluck. He invites everyone looking for a good chat and chow to stop in at 309 Duke St. this Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. Just remember rule No. 1 of potlucks, no knocking.

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