Monthly feast is "breaking down barriers" in New Jersey community

New Jersey feast breaks down barriers

In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler introduces us to neighborhood gathering in Hoboken, New Jersey, that's reminiscent of another time.


Just a ferry ride away from New York City, Hoboken, New Jersey, has a diverse population of just over 53,000 people, including longtime locals and transplants from all over the world. Hoboken resident Ramona Braxton is doing her part to cook dinner for about 100 of them.

On the second Monday of each month, people from the neighborhood and beyond have gathered to share a meal. It started two years ago as a way to help heal after a tragic shooting -- but after finding comfort in food and community with the dinners, they decided to keep up the tradition.

Arlette Braxton, Ramona's mother, has been volunteering her time, and her daughter's, since the beginning.
 
"There was a young lady at first that was running it… she just wanted the community to get together," Arlette said. "And I said, 'well that sounds good. You know what. I'll hang in there. I'll do this.' And from that moment on, I've been stuck."

She's not alone. John Milius, who lives across the street from the public housing building where the dinners are served, has become one of the events' coordinators.
 
"I love the idea of getting to know new people and just kind of building relationships with them. It's one of my favorite things to do," Milius said. "It's the idea of like creating family."
 
Milius and his fellow hosts have created quite a family. Regular guests include local politicians, business leaders, and members of the Hoboken Police Department.

"I'm here because I love this town," said Duke McCourt of the Hoboken Police Department. "I grew up here. It's the people we serve so that's why we come down." It doesn't hurt, he said, that the food is "delicious."
 
"Food is a really important factor," Milius said. "But I think the idea of breaking down barriers and creating bonds with people is something that keeps people always coming back."

This dinner has been so well-received among the community, Arlette said, that sometimes the meals are standing room only. The local high school has started hosting community meals, too.