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YARMOUTH — When Christine Pompeo moved to Portland from South Sudan in 2005, fleeing genocide in her country, she found a new sense of community among local farmers.
In 2007, she began farming for Farm Fresh Start in Lisbon, where her philosophy is to “try anything that you haven’t tried before.”
This is what caught Gather restaurant owner Matt Chappell’s eye.
Chappell met Pompeo this summer while perusing rows of produce vendors at the Portland Farmers Market in Deering Oaks Park.
“Normally, walking through a farmers market you see a lot of the same stuff,” he said. “But (Pompeo) had black-eyed pea greens, which I had never seen before.”
Chappell was short-staffed in the kitchen at the time and asked if Pompeo knew anyone looking for work.
She jumped at the opportunity, and now works four days a week at Gather as a dishwasher and prep cook. Two weeks ago, she helped create a dish that will be added to Gather’s fall menu: samosa or sambusa – a fried or baked dish with savory filling, popular in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Africa.
The entree is served on a bed of Pompeo’s black-eyed pea greens, which Chappell described as “hearty spinach.”
On Sunday, Sept. 24, the 189 Main St. restuarant will celebrate its fifth year in business by giving back and celebrating others, like Pompeo, who are working to build a life for themselves in the U.S.
All donations at the fifth annual Gather Birthday Block Party will be given to The Root Cellar. The party will be held from 3:30-6:30 p.m. and feature barbecue from Worth the Wait BBQ Catering, oysters from O’Oysters, and beverages from Maine Beer Co., Lone Pine Brewing, and Pine State Beverages.
Admission is free and open to the public, but donations of $10 for adults and $5 for kids are suggested.
The Root Cellar is an independent nonprofit organization whose staff and volunteers are dedicated to providing a safe space and enriching services to neighboring youth and their families. It was founded in Portland in 1984, with a second location opening in Lewiston in 2009.
Among other things, The Root Cellar offers afterschool programs for kids, employment opportunities for teens, English language programs, and low-income food co-ops.
Joel Burrow became the director of The Root Cellar’s Lewiston location in 2012.
Both Burrow and Portland Director Clark Carter will attend Gather’s party on Sept. 24.
“I’m really looking forward to celebrating with the people of Gather,” Burrow said. “It is such an honor to be included in their celebration.”
Chappell said he chose The Root Cellar as the restaurant’s birthday beneficiary because of its commitment to Maine’s immigrant population.
“The part (of the organization) that really intrigues me is that they are really doing an amazing job of trying to integrate new Americans into Maine culture,” Chappell said.
He said he hopes to continue involvement with the state’s immigrant population by working with organizations similar to The Root Cellar to provide employment opportunities for those looking to build a life in the U.S.
Chappell said one of the biggest challenges in owning a restaurant has been staying relevant the past five years. One way to do so is by introducing new dishes, programs, and people to the restaurant.
Chappell said he is excited by the idea of working with more people like Pompeo, supporting and advocating for Maine’s local farmers and its immigrants.
About the people involved with The Root Cellar, Burrow said, “There’s some real beauty in these communities and their strength and resilience.
“It’s all about loving your neighbor,” he said.
Matt Chappell’s Yarmouth restaurant, Gather, will celebrate five years of business at 189 Main St. with a block party on Sept. 24.