The Refugee Community Partnership co-hosted a community lunch on Sunday to welcome refugees with Love Chapel Hill church at Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe on West Franklin Street.
The event was open to local residents and new refugee families to gather and share food and conversation in a safe, welcoming and supportive space.
Along with a free meal catered by Vimala Rajendran, owner of Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, the event had music, bubbles, toys, face painting and a large community turnout.
Rajendran began the event by welcoming members of the community and sharing her restaurant's motto: “When Vimala cooks, everybody eats."
This was the third monthly neighborhood gathering held at the restaurant, Rajendran said. She asked the crowd to donate so they could continue to hold these events for the community.
Rajendran called this month’s lunch “love your neighbor" in honor of Valentine's Day, and encouraged all attendees to interact with one another and to be open to communication.
“This is not a handout, the meal is free to any and to all, but please make it a point to introduce yourselves to one another,” Rajendran said at the event. “Stay vigilant and find out who your neighbor really is.”
Rajendran said she lived her entire life as an immigrant and knows how it feels to be an outsider, but she wants the community to be able to come together so everyone feels like they belong.
“This is not political,” Rajendran said. “We are doing this because we love our neighbors.”
Heather Shelton, a member of Love Chapel Hill, was excited to interact with community members from different cultural perspectives and make connections.
“It’s all about breaking bread with our neighbors,” Shelton said. “I feel like my purpose here as a linguistics student is to help people get over the language barrier and make connections.”
Shelton says she believes that language can be a barrier, but it shouldn’t stop people from communicating.
“You don’t need a common language to make connections,” she said.
Some refugees at the event declined to comment on the record, but were open to talking to their neighbors. There were people present to translate in various languages so all people could have an opportunity to share their stories with one another.
Nancy Farron, a former volunteer for Love Chapel Hill, said this event reflects how the church cares about the community.
“We do this so we can connect and share companionship, and show our love for the community,” she said.
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