How a power lunch can empower a community

Photo by Mayté Lomelí Penman. Just a few of the participants who took part in Tostada Magazine’s community engagement lunch at LASED senior center.

It was just 30 minutes before I was to host a community forum at LASED senior center on West Vernor Highway and the chef who’d volunteered to bring a catered lunch hadn’t been responding to my texts.

“What’s the situation with the food?” asked my counterpart, Mayté Lomelí Penman.

“I don’t know, the chef isn’t answering,” I responded frantically.

“OK, what’s Plan B?” she asked.

Within moments, I shook the panic from my head and found an alternative to figure out how I was going to feed two dozen, hungry people. I called up Mi Pueblo, a longtime favorite Mexican restaurant just a short distance away. I placed an order of steak and chicken fajitas, marinated mushrooms, and enough tortillas, refried beans, and Spanish rice to satisfy the small group that had already begun gathering. A delicious choice that proved to be a hit among the guests.

I needed everything to go according to plan. After all, this was my first time experimenting with the idea that gathering around the table to share a meal is the perfect opportunity for journalists and community members to have meaningful conversations. It happens every day when meeting friends for happy hour or sharing a meal with family. What I was hoping to hear that August afternoon were the many concerns and issues faced by caregivers of adults in the Spanish-speaking Latino community.

In the 45 or so minutes before we began preparing the kitchen for lunch service, we heard from more than a dozen Spanish-speaking attendees. One woman shared that she was the caregiver of her husband, a job that had been difficult because she couldn’t single-handedly help lift him if he had a fall. His mobility issues, she said in Spanish, also made transportation to doctor’s appointments or errands a challenge.

Another woman shared that her 30-year-old son has numerous disabilities — including cerebral palsy — and that he is currently undocumented. How could she help him in getting the care he needed and help him find the legal resources needed to change his immigration status?

A millennial-looking guy told the group that he’d provided care to a wealthy couple, but wanted to know if there were cash resources available to folks who provided the same kind of care to others who weren’t as well-heeled as his clients. Is there a stipend for families to tap into, he asked?

Photo by Mayté Lomelí Penman. Some of the people in attendance of the Tostada Magazine community engagement luncheon at LASED senior center.

These were just a few of the responses that we heard during our inaugural community engagement event, held Aug. 5 to promote the initiative, launched in collaboration with the New York & Michigan Solutions Journalism Collaborative, in which we are attempting to find out if we can use WhatsApp to learn the information needs of Spanish-speaking caregivers of adults in metro Detroit. As part of the pilot project launch, we organized the luncheon to mobilize the first group of folks to sign up for the campaign.

We’ll use participants’ responses to inform the types of stories that will be covered among our Solutions Journalism collaborators (which include some of the largest news media organizations in Michigan, including Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Detroit Public Television, Latino Press, Urban Aging News, and others). We believe that we need to find as many avenues as possible to reach communities that are often otherwise marginalized to find out their information needs. Organizing face-to-face meals, connecting on WhatsApp and other forms of social media, and reaching out to social service providers are just a few innovative ways that we’re trying to fill gaps in providing reliable, fact-checked information.

We’ve got more work to do. So far, we’ve recruited about 12 individuals to participate in the WhatsApp group. If you or someone you know is a Spanish-speaking person who uses WhatsApp as a means of communicating and sharing information, we want to hear from you. Click here to sign up!


Serena Maria Daniels

Author: Serena Maria Daniels

Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit. She specializes in reporting on issues that intersect food, identity, and culture.

Find her one Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!

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