The Ups and Downs of Hosting Community Events during the Pandemic
From the Nest, Issue 3
by Christina Babcock
Saturday, February 15, 2020 was a beautiful sunny and mild winter’s day. Perfect for the annual Stinson Community Association (SCA) Hot Chocolate in Carter Park event. There was even a bit of snow on the ground.
Hot Chocolate in Carter Park has always been about more than just hot chocolate. This year, Café Oranje generously donated coffee, SCA co-chair Margaret Bennett donated herbal tea, and there was warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks. In past years we’ve prepared the hot chocolate ourselves, but this year Winterfest had a cancellation so we were able to take advantage of the GayLea hot chocolate trailer (shoutout to Connor and the rest of the Winterfest crew!) that was no longer needed elsewhere.
Not only was there hot chocolate with whipped cream, but the music trailer was also available so we were treated to the musical stylings of Nicole Christian. In addition, Zina from Central Memorial Recreation Centre had games and activities for the kids. Two young residents, students from Queen Victoria School, greeted people as they entered the park and made sure the tables were well-stocked. A grand time was had by all, with a record turnout.
Little did we know that our Hot Chocolate event would be both the first and last SCA event of 2020. One month later, the city of Hamilton was in lockdown and our April SCA meeting was postponed. We kept planning, though, hoping that we’d be able to do events for 100in1 Day in June. Ok, maybe movies in July? The BBQ in August? September? Sigh.
In the end, none of our events happened. Even our meetings were cancelled until November, when we were able to host a modified Annual General Meeting online. The current executive graciously agreed to stay on until such time as we can hopefully meet again in person to hold an election.
In the blink of an eye, it was January and time to start planning for the 2021 Hot Chocolate event. We held our January meeting online and voted to proceed with the event. But the question quickly arose—how would we host it during a pandemic?
Zina had been distributing art kits to children in Carter Park, so maybe we could do the same with hot chocolate? Sachets of instant hot chocolate in paper cups, perhaps with a marshmallow or candy cane? Not quite the same as GayLea’s hot chocolate with whipped cream, but better than nothing.
I wrote a long, involved email to Winterfest detailing how it would be possible to do a take-home hot chocolate event. Halfway through writing, I received an email from Winterfest saying that all in-person events were cancelled. Ever hopeful, I responded with a short version of the proposal and was promptly told that unfortunately it would not be possible to even do take-out from the park. So now what?
A little discouraged, I wrote to the SCA executive to see if they had any ideas. Margaret offered to host an Instagram / Facebook live event where she would show our neighbour Amina how to make “Granny’s hot cocoa”. Amina was one of the Queen Victoria students who had helped with the event last year. She loved Margaret’s hot cocoa and was ready to learn how to make it herself. They would each be in their own home, and the rest of us could follow along online. Margaret posted the recipe to the SCA’s social media accounts in advance in case anyone needed to do last-minute ingredient shopping.
Once again the day of the event was bright and sunny, but this time there was more than just a dusting of snow on the ground as it had been snowing for almost two full days. In one respect it was good we weren’t able to do it in person—how would we have set the tables up in the snow? It was also a lot colder than it had been the year before. We really would have needed the Winterfest hand warmers had it been happening outside!
As the event start time approached, I took out my mug and got my ingredients ready; I joined the live video and put the milk on the stove to warm up. While it heated, I followed along with Amina and Margaret and made a paste of cocoa, sugar, and a dash of sea salt. Once the milk was heated, I added a splash of vanilla before pouring it into the cocoa paste.
It definitely wasn’t the same as being outside in the park with my neighbours but it was nice to see Margaret and Amina onscreen and to know that other neighbours* were also watching and following. And the hot cocoa was pretty good, too!
*As of this writing, the video has had over 200 views. Definitely a record turnout this year!
Christina Babcock has lived in the Stinson neighbourhood for over 10 years; in addition to the Hot Chocolate event, she has helped host movie nights in Central Memorial Recreation Centre’s courtyard and, as a member of Surprise!Hamilton, she has participated in 100in1 Day interventions