Sometime in the early 2000’s (no one quite remembers the year), mind Casa Marianella staff were faced with a practical problem. The shelter, prescription which houses around 40 people and serves dinner daily, was overstretched by the amount of former residents who were returning to spend their days and eat at Casa.
So staff member Rebecca Hall and executive director Jennifer Long settled on a uniquely appropriate solution. Rather than simply creating new rules and limitations, they would channel the returning residents into a single day (per month) of concentrated hospitality. They would call it Convivio, and everyone who had passed through Casa Marianella would be encouraged to come, hang out, and feast with one another.
Around a decade later, Casa has just held it’s first Convivio of 2016. A fairly typical Convivio these days, it began with a Spanish language mass by St. James Episcopal Church. Throughout, participants (including Casa residents) shared stories of endurance and salvation, sang songs, and offered prayers for everyone’s struggles.
As the service concluded, willing hands set up long serving tables and brought the food out from the kitchen. The spread, a mix of Mexican and Ethiopian food (from Aster’s Ethiopian Restaurant), represented the changing demographics of Casa’s residents. Meanwhile, the Executive Steel Band, a Caribbean-style outfit, began to set up their equipment. Soon, the bulk of the attendees (around 50-60 people in total) began streaming in.
A line of volunteers, almost one per dish, served the meal, as conversation warmed and expanded through the party. In attendance was a mix of Casa Staff and ex-staff, residents and ex-residents, volunteers, and many community members with a broad array of connections to the shelter. Eventually, a number of participants formed a dance circle in front of the band.
Convivio, then, has changed over time. In fact, it doesn’t even serve its original purpose anymore, since Casa now has no issues with former residents’ use of the space. Instead, Convivio has grown into a broad community event, flush with attendees and volunteers, with music and dancing playing a central role. It has also adapted to Casa’s changing demographics, and thus reflected larger trends.
More profoundly, as former Staff member Josh Collier puts it, Convivio has become the “eye in the storm” at Casa Marianella. Casa’s residents, who have fled a broader world of violence and destructive U.S. foreign policy, find at Casa both a relative safety and the new tumult of struggling day-to-day to build a life here. Amidst this, as Josh puts it, Convivio serves as a moment “to pause, give thanks for life, food, music, and a supportive community to pass the tempests of the times.”