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MealSharing.com brings strangers to the table

Karen Dybis
Special to The Detroit News

On a recent Thursday, a group of relative strangers gathered in Jenna Davies' Grosse Pointe Park apartment, each having brought a dish of food or a chilled bottle of wine as a contribution to the ultimate community meal.

Coats and boots stowed, the apron-clad Davies brought her fellow MealSharers into the kitchen, where they heaped portions of homemade hummus, Moroccan vegetable tagine and bean-and-white-mushroom risotto onto their plates.

From the conversation that flowed between bites, you'd never know that most of the people attending Davies' vegetarian feast had never met before. This successful gathering is typical of MealSharing, which founder Jay Savsani hopes will catch on quickly in Metro Detroit.

"No matter where you MealShare, whether it is Detroit, Chicago, Berlin or Brazil, there is a common thread between all of us: We care about good, honest home cooking and community exchange," Savsani said.

Along with hostels, Airbnb and an active couch-surfing community, Detroit now has a small yet resolute group of MealSharing advocates who say the timing is right for this food-based phenomenon to take off. And there's no better moment, notes Savsani, than the Thanksgiving Day holiday for Metro Detroit to full embrace the MealSharing concept.

To that end, Savsani and his co-creators came up with "ThanksSharing," allowing hosts and guests in more than 450 cities worldwide to share this ultimate dinner Thursday — and beyond. Savsani and MealSharing advocates like Davies hope this introduction will boost the area's interest.

"Whether you're traveling, alone for the holiday or simply want a different experience, ThanksSharing is bringing people across the globe together through technology over one very special meal," Savsani said.

To host an event, hosts log on to MealSharing.com and set up a dinner specifying what they are making, how many people can come to their table and the optional "chip-in" price per person to help offset the cost of ingredients.

By selecting ThanksSharing as the type of meal, guests from around the world can easily search and join a ThanksSharing dinner with one click. A special ThanksSharing webpage for those seeking a meal also is available with a potluck feature to promote community involvement. The MealSharing.com platform also allows for those who either host or attend a ThanksSharing meal to raise money for local food banks.

Savsani created MealSharing.com last year after experiencing an unforgettable meal experience while traveling in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Chicago-based entrepreneur, who has hosted more than 50 meals featuring his "traditional West Coast Indian food," said his mission is to build friendships through sharing resources, cultural exchanges and healthy home cooking.

"You get a great meal, but you also get support," Savsani said. "One of our hosts recently had a house flood, and people rallied together to help them recover. People have gotten jobs from MealSharing. People have found relationships through it. … The power of a meal is a great way to stimulate and grow a community."

Afterward, guests and hosts review their experience, building trust and safety into the system. Newcomers such as Jerry Brian Inwood of Dearborn said he appreciates that part of the website, allowing him to get to know the hosts.

When he was serving in the Marines, he shared meals with people across the globe, he said, and that is why he was drawn to MealSharing. He described Davies as a "warm and hospitable host" who organized a "good meal where everyone felt welcome and comfortable."

"The group dynamic (to MealSharing) is very much about inclusion," Inwood said.

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.