A Simple Potluck Picnic

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It was August, but a cool breeze kept everyone comfortable beneath the dark wooden arches of the pavilion. Covered dishes crowded onto two long tables. I had peeked beneath every foil covering and inside every cling-wrapped container, and, like I do every Thanksgiving, I wondered when someone would finally decide it was time to eat. There were familiar dishes like mac-and-cheese and unfamiliar offerings, like chat masala. (photo credit: Yahya Sami Alseiha)

Small groups swelled and shifted as some people mingled, greeting everyone, while others rested in deep conversation. The crowds around the babies were always bigger. Skin tones didn’t matter. Accents didn’t matter, even with at least five languages represented. Everyone was glad to spend a few hours in the shade with friends.

Where was I? At a back-to-school picnic organized by the ESL group at a local apartment complex. On the Saturday before Knox County Schools resumed, they reserved a picnic shelter and declared a potluck. I don’t know, maybe one of the ESL instructors taught “potluck” as a vocabulary word, and everyone was inspired.

It didn’t take much: some balls and a couple of games for the kids, some balloons, arranging a few tables with chairs along with two tables for the buffet line, and many bottles of water. Someone brought a flower arrangement centerpiece last-minute. We chatted; we laughed; we served popsicles to the kids. We ate more of the food than you would have expected, and I wasn’t the only one to take home extra servings of a new favorite!

Here at KIN, our volunteer ESL teachers help their students improve in English, but they also prioritize building relationships. Like our mission statement says, they help internationals live “lives of hope, dignity, and purpose.” Sometimes a potluck picnic is exactly the right way to do that.


Spending time with internationals doesn’t have to be hard or complicated: an informal picnic, a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, or a weekly ESL class. If you’d like to get involved, you’ve chosen the right time. We're anticipating an influx of new internationals in metro Knoxville, and you can help greet them! Begin the volunteer registration process at: https://www.kin-connect.org/volunteer-application.

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