A local organization is turning the tables on its annual fundraising dinner this year, subsidizing meals to encourage business at partner restaurants.
Sebastopol World Friends, a volunteer-run sister city organization, will be holding its annual Sister City Friendship Dinner via Zoom on Jan. 23, with participants able to purchase subsidized meals of borsch and sushi from Hole in the Wall and Sushi Tozai respectively. The meals are styled after Sebastopol’s two sister cities: Chyhyryn, Ukraine and Takeo, Japan.
“This year’s event is not a fundraiser, but instead, we focus on bringing the community together by subsidizing the dinner. It is our way of showing our gratitude to the local partners and supporters for their past support, especially in these difficult times,” the event flyer states. “Even during the pandemic, our commitment to our motto ‘World Peace One Friend at a Time’ remains strong!”
Since 1985, Sebastopol World Friends has carried out its mission to encourage people-to-people diplomacy through cultural exchanges, with delegations of middle school students, high school students and adults traded between Sebastopol and its two sister cities. Middle school and high school students from Takeo, Japan and Sebastopol alternate homestays in either country each year, for two-year cycles, and Sebastopol regularly hosts adults from Chyryrn, who come to learn about local government and nonprofits in the area.
Sebastopol World Friends usually holds its annual dinner as a means to raise funds for cultural exchanges, however, because of the effects of worldwide coronavirus travel-restrictions, there is no need for those funds this year. However, the “Where Sushi Meets Borsch” dinner will continue this year and hopefully provide business to restaurants hard-hit by COVID.
“During the year we not only run two different programs, but people like the mayor of a sister city might come—or vacationers or people from the Japanese prefecture in our sister city,” Board Chair Beth Lamb said.
Lamb said the restaurants supplying the dinners traditionally help Sebastopol World Friends by hosting “donate and dine” events and catering the annual Friendship dinner. By subsidizing the meals, Sebastopol World Friends hopes to encourage participation among the community and increased revenue for the restaurants.
Participants who register by Jan. 17 and purchase the dinners ($13 each) will pick up the Borsch Dinner (with a vegan option) from Hole in the Wall and the Sushi Dinner from Sushi Tozai from 4-6 p.m. on Jan. 23. Both options include a side dish from Ukraine or Japan: a cabbage coleslaw dish or a spicy cucumber dish. The dinner will convene at 6:30 p.m.
In order to gather in adherence to COVID safety measures, diners will return to their homes and eat their meals over Zoom while they view a presentation hosted by the organization. This year’s featured organization is an exclusive interview with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, a Sebastopol native who visited Chyhyryn with Sebastopol World Friends in 1996.
The evening will also include cultural presentations, one from members of sister city Chyhyryn. The Ukrainian dance ensemble “Zoloti Maky” will perform a dance, while Sonoma County Taiko will perform a traditional Japanese drumming routine. Both performances will be pre-recorded.
Those who wish to participate in the dinner are encouraged to go to www.sebastopolwf.org, where recipes are included if participants wish to cook the food themselves.
As for Sebastopol World Friends’ regular activities of cultural exchange, Lamb says they have still been able to encourage people-to-people diplomacy through technology despite the pandemic and the language barrier.
Lamb said Sebastopol World Friends, alongside Sonoma County interfaith network, joined its umbrella organization Sister Cities International to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a global virtual bell-ringing ceremony.
Students are also staying connected via social media, though it has been difficult.
“It’s kind of hard with the language barrier. The middle school kids don’t speak English very well and our kids don’t speak Japanese, so it’s been kind of hard to get them to connect,” Lamb said. “But kids are kids and they’re doing Facebook pictures back and forth.”
Sebastopol World Friends has also been communicating via Zoom with Chyhyryn, and both cities are encouraging members to publish short videos demonstrating how the coronavirus has affected their lives.
And if you’re wondering what Sonoma County cuisine Japanese and Ukrainian guests are treated with when they come to Sebastopol: “We always take people to Bodega Bay and give them clam chowder. That’s a big hit! Sometimes we take them to San Francisco for crab. The adults all like to go for beers at local breweries. In-N-Out burger is always on our list of places,” Lamb said.
Pizza is also a go-to, according to Lamb.