All day Saturday, the cooks were in their kitchens.
Some of them had started days earlier, rolling dough and stirring together sweet fillings for desserts with beautiful tongue-twisting names.
The friends and clients and employees of the Good Neighbor Community Center, covering the globe culinary-style — getting ready for the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser.
Lewis Brewer is all over West Africa.
The man from Liberia had plans to make his peanut butter stew, Brewer said when I called him on grocery-shopping day.
And not just stew, but his special spinach and the chicken and noodles like his mother taught him at home.
His house will be fragrant, he said, three or four or five dishes simmering at the same time, seasoned with tumeric and cumin and red chilies.
Friends will stop by. He’ll move the TV to the kitchen and watch the Huskers beat Minnesota.
Come over, he said. I’ll feed you.
And come Sunday, he will help feed a bigger crowd at the Heartland Hall of College View Church at 48th Street and Prescott Avenue.
They call it the Good Neighbor fundraiser: Samples of the World.
And that’s what it is, Brewer said.
“I went there and I saw all these people — it was beautiful. Black, brown, green, blue, yellow, purple, we’re all the same in the eyes of God.”
This is the event’s ninth year, said Tom Randa, Good Neighbor’s executive director, who will make dishes from his homeland of Kenya.
Those at the center had been looking for a way to commemorate 35 years of helping people in need when they came up with the idea. They thought about food and the universal language of delicious.
That first year, they asked clients of the center to help, and they still do. But they’ve expanded their base and now people volunteer to stand over their stoves and share the tastes of home.
“People come and say, 'I have a friend from Afghanistan who wants to make something for you,’” Randa said. “Or I have a friend from Baghdad who wants to help.”
The Good Neighbor Center welcomes them all.
This year, cooks from Syria, Italy, Mexico, Bosnia, Burkina Faso, Ireland, Liberia, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt will showcase traditional dishes.
“America will be represented and American Indian,” he said. “And one woman, if she doesn’t go to a wedding, we are going to also have Turkish.”
Brewer cooked for the event last year for the first time, a neighbor who came to the brick building on Y Street for clothing years ago and returned when in need in the years that followed.
The retired concrete finisher liked to cook and shared his dishes with employees at his bank — one of them was a Good Neighbor board member who recommended him for the fundraiser.
Brewer fiddled with his spicy African dishes to bring the heat down and showed up with pots of soup and side dishes.
“It was fun watching everyone together eating, it was something I haven’t seen for a long time,” he said.
“Different nations coming together for one cause,” Randa said.
They are cooking for 200. Sponsors help with the cost of the groceries.
And Randa is thankful. For his board and volunteers and businesses and churches and the city and people who drop off donations.
Thursday, Zainab Al-Baaj stayed home baking.
She and her team will fill six tables, plus “hot drinks and desserts,” said the director of the Good Neighbor-based program that serves women from the Middle East and North Africa
“It’s a busy, busy time,” she said.
During the week, the center serves as a welcome mat for immigrants and refugees and anyone else needing help with basic needs — clothing and household supplies and a food pantry that has been central to its mission since the doors opened in 1973.
“Come with an open mind,” instructs the flyer for Sunday’s fundraiser. “Leave with a full stomach.”
Guests are welcome to bring non-perishable food items to fill the center’s cupboards.
And for the price of a $25 ticket, they can sample the world.
Better yet, they can meet it, too.