Virtual Art Class Connects Strangers

For over 20 years, the Neighbourhood Small Grants program has brought people together and made communities more resilient. The grassroots initiative provides grants up to $500 to fund small projects that connect neighbours, share skills, celebrate diversity, and foster a stronger sense of belonging. This year however, as the seriousness of COVID-19 became more clear, the feasibility of hosting the much-loved program came into question. Equally troubling, public health orders to physically distance from others has had the unintended impact of creating more social isolation and disconnection.

Rather than cancel the grants, the Vancouver Foundation (which funds the program) boldly decided to create a new granting stream called Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grants to support virtual projects with no physical gathering component.

One such project was Art for Heart project led by Geetanjali Joshi. Geetanjali recently moved to Vancouver in December of 2019. Prior to arriving in Canada, Geetanjali lived in India and had only left the country twice to visit the United States on a cultural exchange program. The Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grants program provided Geetanjali “with the opportunity to serve my new home and its people.”

Professionally trained as a teacher and a lifelong artist, Geetanjali applied to host an online art class. “I live alone in Vancouver and am eager to connect with other people who might be alone and are in need of support and mental escape in this tough time,” she explained, “I find art to be therapeutic, and want to share it.”

A committee of neighbours reviewed her application, and awarded her $500 in funding. Geetanjali then advertised the project on a facebook community page. Eight West End neighbours quickly signed up, and she arranged to have art supplies safely distributed to all participants.

Over Zoom video chat sessions the participants bonded and painted together. “It was a wonderful experience connecting with them and doing some amazing art,” she remarked. “We had three zoom sessions on three Sundays. What started out as 8 strangers who are now friends and fellow artists. it was a great experience for all.”

Gordon Neighbourhood House coordinates the Neighbourhood Small Grants program for all residents on the downtown peninsula. Learn more about program and Responsive Neighbourhood Small Grants online. For more information, email jim@gordonhouse.org.


Pelmeni and Pierogi Making Workshop

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This summer local residents Tanya Shinder and Tanya Fabrichnikova along with their friends led a pelmeni and pierogi making workshop for interested community members at Gordon Neighbourhood House. Pelmeni (Пельмени) are small meat dumplings which originated in Russia, Ukraine, and Siberia. Legend has it that Siberian hunters on winter expeditions would carry large frozen sacks of pelmeni, which could then be boiled in melted snow. While a plate of these dumplings may not look like much to the untrained eye, the dish requires specific techniques to prepare the thin dough and seal the dumplings.

This workshop was funded by a Neighbourhood Small Grant (NSG) from the Vancouver Foundation. The NSG program is a unique initiative which funds resident-led projects that connect neighbours, share skills, and create a more resilient community.

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Armed with instructions from the expert instructors, workshop participants immediately spread out on several tables and began making the small dumplings. Obtaining the right consistency of the unleavened dough requires practice and patience. Too thin and dough will tear when boiled resulting in a dish that is sloppy and soggy, too thick and the pelmeni will be tough and doughy. By the end of the evening everyone was able to make a plateful of pelmeni and pierogis.

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The finished dumplings were then boiled in water infused with black pepper and bay leaves. When the pelmeni began to slowly rise to the surface of the gently boiling water they were strained from the pot and served with butter and soy sauce or sour cream.

After an hour and a half spent preparing and cooking the dumplings, everyone sat down at a long table and enjoyed a meal together while listening to stories from the instructors about making this traditional dish with their families. Tanya Shinder, who was once the proprietor of The Rasputin Restaurant on Broadway Street, even surprised the group with a homemade traditional triple-layered cake at the end of the meal!

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The Neighbourhood Small Grants program is an annual initiative that is funded by the Vancouver Foundation. Gordon Neighbourhood House coordinates the grants for residents on the Downtown Peninsula. For more information please contact Jim Balakshin at jim@gordonhouse.org or (604) 683-2554.