Just over one year ago, the staff at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Community Engagement Center (CEC) had no idea that the monthly community lunch held on Feb. 28, 2020, would be their last before going into COVID-19 lockdown.
After 14 months of quarantine, isolation, and physical distancing, it is finally safe enough for the CEC to bring back its free community meal.
“I’m just so thankful that we’re all here today and we’re able to get together again,” said Angie Pollitt, as she greeted her neighbors face-to-face for the first time in over a year. “We’re finally starting to feel a little more normalcy, and I’m so grateful for that.”
Pollitt, who has lived on West Lexington Street for close to 35 years, was not alone in her joy. Dozens of smiling, masked faces came out to say “hello” and grab a free lunch April 28.
“I’m definitely excited to see so many people out here today because we’ve been in this building since about August, but we weren’t able to open to the public,” said Danielle Harris, the associate director of the CEC. “We’ve been craving the company of our community and neighbors so it’s definitely exciting to see all these old and new faces.”
The beautiful, sunny day was a perfect backdrop to reunite with neighbors over lunch catered by a locally owned eatery. This lunch was catered by Culinary Architecture, which provided take-away lunches that included a sandwich, chips, fruit, and dessert. They even provided a vegan option for community members with dietary restrictions.
To comply with COVID-19 safety restrictions, this lunch was set up a little differently. The CEC faculty and staff set up several outdoor tents and tables where neighbors could grab a boxed lunch. Even though the lunch was a “grab-and-go,” community members were able to reunite and spend some time catching up.
“We haven’t been able to see anyone in person since the start of the pandemic,” said Harris. “This in-person lunch is so great because when people come up, we’re able to chat with them for a bit in a nice socially distanced way and learn about what’s been going on and what other needs they might have.”
This lunch was also a great opportunity for neighbors to learn more about the new CEC building at 16 S. Poppleton St. and all of the programming that is available. The tables were set up with informational flyers about youth and adult programming as well as a table where neighbors could talk to nursing students and get signed up for a vaccine appointment at UMB’s SMC Campus Center.
For Shiquita Holmes, the informational tables were extremely helpful. This was her first visit to the CEC, and she was amazed by all of the programs available.
“I think it’s awesome because I found out about more resources that can help me and that I can get my kids involved with,” she said. “I have a 6-year-old, and I can’t wait to bring him out here and get him into some activities when it’s safe.”
The CEC plans to hold the free community lunch twice a month on Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m.