‘Sweet gatherings’ fuel community conversations
By: Emily Sabens
A sari of bright turquoise and purple framed Shailla Gupta’s face as she nodded in agreement with a speaker talking about love and understanding. The native of India sat at the head of a table scattered with empty styrofoam plates dusted with crumbs and smears of whipped cream.
Gupta and others gathered at Hazelwood Christian Church in Muncie come from different backgrounds, but two loves brought them together that evening—the city and pie.
The event: Pies for Peace is a grassroots effort that invites community members to enjoy slices of pie as they engage in meaningful, respectful discussions. Retired Muncie residents Beena Joseph and Rosemary Rugsaken whipped up the concept in 2016, when tensions were high during the U.S. presidential campaign. The friends said they figured residents couldn’t argue between bites of the world’s most universally loved dessert. So, what started with a few women talking about issues in Muncie transformed into meetings of more than 70 people debating global concerns.
Slices of hope
Anyone is welcome to the events and encouraged to bring a pie to share (but it’s not required). They have yet to experience a shortage. Each gathering thus far has featured rows and rows of savory varieties, from chicken pot pie and Italian calzones to pirogues and the classic pizza pie. They’ve topped each night with whopping slices of chocolate cream, apple, banana cream, mint fudge and other delectable, flaky desserts.
Gupta, who owns Gupta Hobby & Craft Center, has been involved from the start, serving mostly as a table leader to facilitate conversation. She often opens with her own story, which includes moving to Muncie in 1961 for her husband to take a professorship in Ball State’s psychology department. Her honesty about their difficulty connecting with others invites others to open up.
‘What will you do?’
In the Hazelwood Church fellowship hall, conversation at Gupta’s table transitioned from the personal to the pressures facing our world. Despite the overwhelming turmoil, Gupta said, she clings to a bright, hopeful outlook.
“The world is always in a constant flux. Every time is a wild time,” she said. “But I’m positive that the world will change for the better in the future.”
Others at the table echoed her outlook before taking a slice, but of paper this time. They each pull a piece of yellow construction paper from a paper pie, with the question, “what will you do to contribute to the Muncie community?” written on each slice.
Table leaders head to the podium to share their responses: more friendships, more community partnerships and more bilingual learning opportunities are among the participants’ priorities. Gupta writes “to shape young minds,” which she said—along with these “sweet” gatherings—will help create a more positive community.
Learn more about Pies for Peace and check out upcoming events on the Pies for Peace Facebook page.