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Participant diversity called possibly greatest in years

UPDATED April 20: Neighbors Eating All Together (NEAT) hosted its most recent community meal on Saturday, April 13, at Park Avenue Congregational Church in Arlington Heights. This is the first time the event has taken place on the northwest end of town, a news release said. NEAT dinners occur monthly, free to all and open to everyone.

NEAT Vice Chair Julie Rackliffe Lucey noted that previous meals have taken place in the Arlington Center and East Arlington neighborhoods, including at the Arlington Community Center and Thompson School.

NEAT volunteers initially had expected to serve only about 80 this month; however, more than 140 guests attended this meal were able to be accommodated. Served that evening was chicken broccoli and ziti -- with ziti and broccoli available for vegetarians --from  D'Agostino's nearby location on Mass. Ave.

NEAT’s signature fresh-vegetable salad, served at each such event, was prepared this time by Arlington Human Rights Commission member Sharon Grossman and her husband, Irwin, with, as always, solely Food Link-rescued ingredients. As in the past, Food Link also provided desserts, bread and butter, and beverages for the crowd.

neat.meal24Some 140 diners enjoy a meal at the Park Avenue Congregational Church. / photos courtesy NEA"NEAT was able to handle 140+ diners even with an [initial attendance] estimate of only 80, because we increased our entree purchase at the last minute, adding a tray of chicken/broccoli/ziti to our D'Agostinos order," according to Ivan Basch, clerk of the board of NEAT, responding to a YourArlington inquiry. He added that NEAT-affiliated folks having spread the word about the dinner both at the church and at nearby Drake Village -- home to many senior citizens -- likely augmented the crowd.

“I think this might be the most diverse crowd we’ve seen. At least half of the folks here are new to the NEAT meal," Lucey said in the release.

Basch added later via email, "I heard many different languages in the room including Spanish and multiple Asian dialects from China and India. As different as the people appeared, they were all smiling and having a great evening together!" he said.

Irwin and Sharon Grossman, preparing to serve the NEAT salad. 

Next meal to be 5 p.m. May 11 at Thompson School 

"One of the main tenets of the NEAT mission is to combat social isolation, often experienced by seniors. The first two tables that filled were seniors from the neighborhood, including Drake Village. In addition to neighborhood folks, we welcomed guests from the other side of the old Symmes Hospital site, while still having many of our regulars from East and Central Arlington. This is exactly what we hoped for,” Lucey was quoted as saying.

"The dinner this past Saturday was the first time I attended since before COVID-19, and it was amazing to see so many familiar faces and meet new people," Commissioner Christine Carney was quoted as saying.

"I am grateful to all the volunteers who work tirelessly to bring our community together and that the Arlington Human Rights Commission had the opportunity to be a part of it." According to the release, the cost of the food from D’Agostino’s was covered entirely by the commission.

The next NEAT community meal as of late April was scheduled for 5 to 6:30 p.m. May 11 at Thompson School,  187 Everett St. in East Arlington.

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March 14, 2024: Some 150 people, including refugees, attend free community meal hosted by NEAT

This account was published Friday, April 19, 2024, based on information from NEAT officials Julie Rackliffe Lucey and Ivan Basch. It was updated April 20, 2024, to correct the title of Christine Carney.