Welcome Neighbor STL is gearing up to do its biggest event yet, and director Jessica Bueler is thrilled.
The nonprofit has partnered with Washington University’s ThurtenE Carnival in order to bring meals from refugee chefs into the mix. ThurtenE Carnival is the oldest and largest student-run carnival in the United States, tracing its roots back to 1904. While the event has been put on pause for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it returns April 8 through April 10.
Bueler details that organizers of the carnival reached out last fall, and once they got to talking, both organizations realized it was meant to be.
“It was just a perfect fit for us to be able to help jump in and provide food for the event,” Bueler tells the RFT. “And then they provide this amazing, incredible platform for our refugee cooks to be able to share their culture and their food and to be able to earn a meaningful income.”
Meals will hail from Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan, Iraq, India and Kurdish culture. Each menu is available for pre-order online, and there will be a la carte items for sale at the carnival. One of the carnival’s organizers, Kathryn Reisner, says that “hundreds of students from more than 35 student groups are excited to welcome the St. Louis community to our campus. ”
“There will be something for everyone,” Reisner adds, “From music from WashU a cappella groups to grilled burgers from ZBT fraternity to sports challenges from the women’s crew team and the Rugby Club. There has never been a ThurtenE this diverse. ”
Another exciting piece is in store for the carnival, Bueler tells the RFT. A Kurdish refugee is preparing one of the menus, and her husband is tagging along to perform with his tambur, a Kurdish instrument, at the event. The director says Welcome Neighbor often features his performances on their Facebook group, and the posts are extremely popular with their audience. Other highlights of the carnival include cultural dances, interactive games and other musical performances.
Bueler details there are 250 meals being prepared for the event – a scale Welcome Neighbor has not seen. Normally, for their supper clubs, eight volunteers are required in order to make a drive through event successful. This one will require over 100 volunteers, and more are still needed. Bueler is confident that St. Louisans will step up to help; she says that it’s amazing to see the community come together, help new arrivals to St. Louis celebrates their culture and to have those same refugees share their food and culture with the region.
COVID-19 has long kept St. Louisans indoors to protect each other, and as case rates decline, Bueler is ready to see people try the meals and be blown away.
“Once people try the food from these different countries, every single time, the response is the same. They’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is incredible.’ ‘Cause it’s something they’ve never had before, ”Bueler says. “And so like getting that opportunity to get in front of new people and for them to try this food, I think it’s gonna create a really amazing opportunity for these refugee women to cook for people again, and to get hired for other catering events. So I think that’s the biggest takeaway and the biggest impact is that they’re gonna get to share their food and then hopefully, that they can get more sales in the future to support their families. ”
The carnival takes place April 8 from 4 to 8 pm and April 9 and 10 from 11 am to 8 pm Guests can pre-order their meals through WelcomeNeighborSTL.org, as well as sign up to volunteer at the event. Meals cost $ 14 per plate, with 90% of all proceeds going to the refugee chefs.
Admission to get into the carnival is free, and ride tickets can be purchased on site or online for a discounted rate; all-you-can-ride wristbands on Friday night are $ 20. Rides will cost between two to five tickets per attraction; find more information on ThurtenE.org.
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