By Open Table Coordinator Madeline Eppard
While it may not be surprising to many of you, it was interesting for me to find out that Rochester’s population is nearly one third of the population of Minneapolis. For a place in the middle of Southeast Minnesota, I feel that the size of the city of Rochester is an anomaly. Because I am from the metro area, when I think of a city I think of the hustle and bustle of downtown where so many people congregate and live together but will never get to know one another or may never even care to do so. Even though we may never meet everyone who lives in Rochester, the people who live here have a unique connection that make this much more than a city.
Before I began to plant roots here, I would always drive by on my way to and from college. From the outside, I viewed Rochester as a big city on a small scale, a mirage on the side of the highway between miles of farms and fields, but nothing special beyond that. But after living here for only a few short months, I can definitely say that there is more to Rochester than meets the eye. Because I have only lived here for a finite amount of time, I always felt that I was in no position to give a review of my new home, but I did know that I always felt safe here and there was a warmth about the people that was different than any other city I had visited or lived in. It felt smaller and more tight-knit than the city I had perceived–something more like a community.
If you have been keeping up with my Zumbro blog posts, you may have caught on to this perception through my verbiage and anecdotes, but it was not until this past week that I felt it was something I wanted to share with all of you. This past Thursday I was a part of our food distribution at Zumbro. As I sat in the atrium of the west side doors, I had the pleasure of meeting an older gentleman who spoke about the notion of Rochester as much more than a city. After he received his burritos and turned to leave, he stopped and turned back to thank us for the meal. He then expressed his appreciation for what we do as an organization and the number of people we are able to help as a result of our generosity, but it was what he said last that stuck with me the most. Before he turned to leave he said it was organizations like ours that display how Rochester is truly a community. It was at that moment that I realized I was not alone in feeling that Rochester is a city in which neighbors care for one another.
It is astonishing to think that a city of over 120,000 people could be considered a community, but through this organization I have learned that the definition of a community extends far beyond the number of people that constitute it. It relates more to the way in which people act toward one another and help one another. These are the real aspects that make and maintain a community. It is a rare thing to see this number of people all in one place making a city feel so warm, but I feel that this is what makes Rochester special and unlike any other.
Open Table in particular is one of the many aspects of Rochester that allows any individual to experience the vibrancy of the community here. It begins with our volunteers who donate their time to people who they may never meet, or who may never know them. It follows us into the kitchen where a warm welcome always awaits each volunteer, making them feel as though they were meant to be here. It extends to our distributors on the truck and at church who interface with our guests and initiate an atmosphere that welcomes and cares for each individual that comes to our window. And while we may never see it directly, it affects the families and friends of those we serve. At every level of our organization Open Table exemplifies the pillars of Rochester that make it so unique. As a newcomer I felt this sense immediately, but even as time has passed, I still walk away from our kitchen each week astonished by not only our organization’s dedication to make an impact, but the ease at which this duty comes to everyone we work with. I have found that our volunteers show up week after week for no personal gain of their own, but more so to help those who need it most even though they may share nothing more than the zip code of this little big city with the biggest sense of community.