“The last twenty four hours has treated me to wind, rain and banging doors, trees falling and all those things that say ‘stay in.’ It says ‘stay in’ but this says ‘come out again.’ There’s something really positive happening here.” CBC Mainstreet interview at Park Avenue Community Oven during ‘Storm Oven’
We all crave connection in dark circumstances, but only some know how to stumble in the darkness to create it.
On Sunday, when the eye of Hurricane Dorian was hovering somewhere above Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Allison Eddy, a volunteer with Park Avenue Community Oven (PACO), sent an email to her fellow volunteers suggesting they fire up the bake oven to help anyone without power get a hot meal.
A meal would provide nourishment, but also, comfort, during the aftermath of the storm that caused extensive property damage and left, at its peak, over 400,000 Nova Scotians without power.
Fellow volunteer Bernie Tremblay seized on the idea and posted it on social media. It was picked up by Halifax Noise and spread even further. Soon, Stone Pizza, a local pizza shop that had also lost power, offered to donate all of their pizzas to the bake oven.
And just like that 200 people congregated in a Dartmouth park to share pizza and comfort in the wake of a massive storm.
As a citizen-led and volunteer-run non profit started in 2012, PACO has a long history of bringing people together to create a sense of belonging through food. The group runs a bake oven, but also a community garden and orchards. In fact, the group’s volunteers logged 300 hours last year.
The community bake oven is use by the community more than 100 days of the year. In addition “Open Oven” events happen twice a week when the oven is open and lit for anyone in the community who wants to cook food. People make pizzas, but also roasted vegetables, cookies, hot dogs, and even bacon and eggs.
By drawing people in, the bake oven creates shared experiences over food. And, shared experiences are the bedrock of relationships.
Bernie Tremblay, a volunteer who was working the oven on the night that’s now been termed “Storm Oven,” admits that he “caught the oven bug” when he discovered how good it feels to share food and community. “One of the symptoms of the oven bug,” he admits, “is that you have to tell people how awesome a community bake oven is.”
Bernie was between jobs and reflecting on what he wanted from his life when he stumbled on the bake oven in Leighton Dillman Park on the Dartmouth Commons. It was the smell of the food cooking that caught his attention. One week later he had the keys to the oven and was sparking it up and serving food alongside his fellow volunteers.
Bernie believes in the power of the community oven: “You’ll never come to the park oven and not feel better when you leave.”
With the wind howling and trees falling, it’s easy to imagine staying in. Frankly, the draw of laundry and digital screens and pajamas makes it easy to stay in. But, places like PACO and people like the volunteers that light the fire help us get out. And, thanks to groups like PACO, we have the opportunity to “come out” into community parks. As a result, we, perhaps ironically, feel more at home.
Thank you to the incredible volunteers at PACO, who light the spark that makes communities feel warmer.