Rain moves 'A Seat at the Table' indoors but does not diminish camaraderie

The plan for Homewood-Flossmoor Park District's A Seat at the Table community picnic on Sunday was thwarted by rain, but the event was not.

Park district officials had intended to hold the bring-your-own food and drink event on the greensward of Irwin Park from 6 to 9 p.m. Long rows of picnic tables were set up with table cloths and flower center pieces Sunday afternoon, in the hopes an improving forecast would prove true.

But shortly after 5:30 p.m. it began to rain steadily, and with the event about to start, park district Executive Director Debbie Kopas went to Plan B, moving the event into Irwin Center. District staff scurried to get tables set up inside as people began to arrive.

Stephanie Simpson, superintendent of recreation, put a positive spin on the change in plans, greeting early arrivals with a smile. 

"It's a great day for an indoor picnic," she said. 

Still, it was disappointing to be inside after all the preparation and expectation for mingling with neighbors on a fine summer night.

"It was so frustrating," Kopas said. "We tried. It was going to be so much more festive outside."
She said the weather probably reduced attendance, but the approximately 60 people who did attend got into the spirit of the occasion.

Stacey Swart of Homewood was there with her husband, Craig, and children Kepler and Lincoln. 

"It's just representative of the community," she said. "Everyone comes together, different age groups, different backgrounds, older people, single people, families, a little bit of everything."

The event also brought friends from neighboring communities to town.

A group of friends from Lynwood and Chicago Heights laid an impressive picnic spread at the end of one table. Lisa Durr of Lynwood said she spread the word about the event when she saw an announcement about it.

"I thought 'Wow, that's something fun. Let's do it,'" she said, and noted that she has been impressed with H-F Park District events in the past. "Anything they ever put on is always so nice and family oriented."

Lilly Spraggins of Lynwood explained what brought her to Homewood with her granddaughter, Jayla Nelson, to see the group of friends.

"We don't get to see each other every day," she said. "We came here because it gave us a chance to fellowship with each other, catch up on our latest news," she said.

She also saw the event as a chance to make new friends.

"I'll probably go over to some of these other tables. You always find new people to meet," she said.

That fit the vision the park district had for the event.

"I love the whole concept of 'sit down with a stranger and leave with a friend,'" Kopas said. "That was the hope."

She said the idea for the event came from then commissioner Christina Jackson during a brainstorming session. The commissioners loved the idea, and Kopas said the community seemed to embrace it, too.

"The support was amazing," she said. "We're definitely feeling the love about the event. That's why I feel like we have to try again."

Park board president Dallas Collins thanked the people who showed up and the staff who worked hard, even in the rain, to make the event happen.


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