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GROTON — Combining healthy food, good cheer and community service, local residents have teamed up to produce Groton Community Dinners (GCD) allowing folks from all walks of life to get together every month for dinner.

“We are a community organization that strives to feed people who are hungry for food, hungry for community or hungry to serve others,” said Crystal Herrmann, a volunteer with GCD.

“We aim to build a stronger, more resilient community by forging stronger bonds across community groups,” said Herrmann. “We pair different community groups together to host the monthly dinners. So, you might have a church group paired with a karate group, a group of women from a neighborhood book group paired with students from one of the area schools, a running club paired with the Groton Rotary; the possibilities are as varied as they are endless.

“We offer a dinner that is free to everyone and that provides an opportunity for kids as young as 7 to adults of any age to be of service to their community,” said Herrmann. “We have guests who are in need of food, in need of company, in need of a night out that won’t break the bank, or just in need of a night off from cooking after a hectic week. All are welcome and people from all walks of life attend. There is no stigma or shame; there is only delicious food, great music, and wonderful company in a warm, welcoming atmosphere.”

“Our story began after the financial crash in 2008 when so many people in Groton and surrounding towns (as well as around the country) were losing their jobs,” explained Herrmann. “Many people had been talking separately about ways to help; several of them had spoken at various times to Rev. Elea Kemler of First Parish Church in Groton. Elea, who is also a GCD board member, decided to gather all of the people talking to her separately to start talking together about what we could do. In visiting some programs in our area and discussing the need for a real community response that would include people of all ages and walks of life, we decided to do things a little differently … to make the atmosphere more celebratory, with fresh flowers for centerpieces and live music at each dinner as well as pairing up different community groups so that we could start building that community support network.”

Needing more than volunteers to make the idea work, the group began to receive donations from some hosting groups as well as individuals who attend the dinners. Some people like to pay a little bit when they attend, but no payment is required. They also do some fundraising.

This year, the GCD group is scheduling another fundraiser called the EAT For Life Festival and Forum.

“This will be an exciting new venture for us,” enthused Herrmann. “And is right in line with our mission of making nutrition and sustainability a priority as well as promoting local food and farms.”

The EAT for Life Festival will be held at the First Parish Church of Groton and is scheduled for May 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Chef Karen Zimmerman of the farm-to-table café at Groton Wellness is also a board member,” said Herrmann. “When we were discussing ideas for this year’s spring fundraiser, she mentioned that she has been toying with the idea of doing a day-long forum on living well through healthier cooking and eating. We thought it was a fantastic idea, and asked her to lead the way.”

There will truly be something for everyone, that day, Herrmann said — demonstrations on various topics, from baking bread at home to fermenting and from cooking whole foods for your family to juicing with weeds. Seminars will range from organizing your life with your health in mind to how and why to avoid processed foods and from how to plant your first garden to what to think about sugar’s role in your health. And that’s just a few examples. “We also have some great kids’ workshops on food rainbows (painting), karate, and yoga as well as free childcare for guests,” she said.

“In order to keep Groton Community Dinners operating, supporting our two paid staff positions, as well as working toward future goals, such as providing dinners twice per month and then, eventually, weekly, we hope to raise between $4,000 and $5,000 with the EAT for Life event,” said Herrmann. “We’re offering a very reasonable admission price of $20 for unlimited seminars as well as lunch, a local food fair, and complimentary childcare and kids workshops. We’re hoping the combination of amazing topics, delicious food, and fun kids’ activities will entice people to come spend their day or part of their day learning about ways to make themselves and their families healthier and happier.”

Currently, GCDs are held on the last Friday of the month, January through November, at the First Parish Church with dinner served continuously from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m. The next meal time will be tonight (April 24), with Groton School stepping in to cook the meal with salad, main course and dessert on the menu.

Supporters behind the GCD effort have been rewarded with increased participation and plenty of customer satisfaction.

“We’ve been going strong for almost six years now,” reported Herrmann. “On average, we serve about 95 guests each month. We have hosting groups who sign on to host a dinner on the same month each year. For example, Groton Rotary signs on to do a special flank steak dinner every July; a very popular dinner each year. They bring their own grills and grill the steak right outside. The guests love it!”

To learn more about Groton Community Dinners, visit the group on the Internet at Grotoncommunitydinners.org and if interested, one of the things interested parties can do is offer their services and join the fun.

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