As protesters flocked to D/FW International Airport last year to speak out against President Donald Trump's travel ban, friends Olga Pope and Kim Simithraaratchy decided to take their own kind of action. Simithraaratchy was born to Vietnamese refugees and wanted to show those seeking asylum a different side of America.
After reading about the Syria Supper Club in a New York Times article headlined “Home is Where the Resistance Is,” the two friends drew up plans to start a different form of local protest. For them, the best way to counteract the xenophobia of America’s new immigration policies required more than authoring a social media post. Instead, they decided to throw a party, one where refugees share their homeland’s food with their new American neighbors.
They named their project the Sunday Supper Foundation. Nearly every monthly gathering since it began in February 2017 has sold out.
A different Dallas-area home hosts the party each month. Hosts are responsible for presenting a clean home and a space large enough for about 40 guests. A volunteer crew sets up tables and place settings before the event and returns when it’s over to break it all down and wash dishes.
Sunny Carroum said her Sunday Supper was the easiest party she’s thrown in her Lake Highlands home.
Each gathering features a refugee family that does all the cooking. For a suggested $85 donation, each guest gets a welcome cocktail, wine purchased at a nonprofit rate from Times Ten Cellars and buffet-style home cooking that is as authentic as it gets. Dishes such as Syrian beef kibbeh, Afghan mantu dumplings and Venezuelan quesillo are handmade by newcomers to this country who are eager to share their culture with new friends.
The foundation first selected cooks through Refugee Services of Texas, a social service nonprofit that supports asylum-seeking families and human-trafficking victims for up to six months, but now families in need of support are identified mostly through the foundation’s network. The first supper was in Simithraaratchy's home with an Iranian family. Other families have been new arrivals from Afghanistan, the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela.
Simithraaratchy estimates that a participating family walks away with about $2,000 at the end of the night, but the larger impact comes from connections the families form with guests. Past guests have assisted with job networking. One former guest drives a woman to English classes at Brookhaven College. Pope and Simithraaratchy are working to develop long-term connections through the program by identifying mentors for children in the families.
Guests who are curious to hear the refugees’ stories are urged to be considerate when asking about what could be years of endured trauma. Jamileh Jaffari, who made traditional Afghan chicken korma and stew for May’s party, spoke briefly about her clandestine escape from Afghanistan to Turkey. She and her children had little food during the four-day journey. After arriving, they waited eight years before gaining their American visas. She says getting by in America is tougher than she had imagined.
Jaffari had dreamed of becoming a dentist, but now she is trying to find a way to sell her Turkish sheqerpare cookies and Afghan breads. Her top priority is learning English. She is happy to finally live in a country where she’s allowed to attend school.
The Sunday Supper Foundation's next dinner, featuring Ivory Coast cuisine served at a Carrollton home, is June 24.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.