Fishtown residents can dine at a community Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday, hosted by two neighbors. Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The holidays are a time to gather with loved ones. From the point of view of a couple of Fishtown residents, that applies just as much to your neighbors as it does to your friends and family.

In their rapidly changing River Wards neighborhood, Shelley Swift and Heather Castro decided to host a community Thanksgiving this year.

The women live in a multi-family house at the corner of Belgrade and Marlborough: Swift in the bottom apartment, and Castro on top. They met just a few months ago, when Swift, a 38-year-old grad student at Thomas Jefferson University, first moved to the area. Castro had already been there for nine years.

Since Swift knew she’d end up spending the holiday alone, she reached out to her buildingmate for company. At first, it was just going to be the two of them — but Swift realized others nearby probably had the same issue she did. In just five years, the area’s population has increased 24.6 percent, per a Next City report.

So the new friends decided to extend the invite — to the entire neighborhood.

“Last Thanksgiving, I didn’t have anybody to be with and I felt like a loser,” Swift said. “I didn’t want anyone to feel that way.”

To recruit guests, Swift posted in a neighborhood Facebook group and scored four confirmations within the first couple of days. She’s hoping for more, since she and Castro have some elaborate plans.

In the bottom apartment, there will be cocktails and appetizers. Upstairs, dinner will be served, with all the traditional fixings plus vegetarian options, like mushroom gravy. For dessert, Fishtowners can delight in corn pudding and an apple cranberry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream.

“There will be so much food,” said Castro. “Hopefully everybody will take some home.”

For the 39-year-old, it’s an opportunity to get reacquainted with her changing neighborhood.

“Being in this particular location as long as I have…seeing all the different changes, it’s such a different neighborhood now,” Castro said. “There are new people who are coming in, and I’d love to strike up a chat with them.”

Both Castro and Swift expect the event to be small, fewer than 10 guests, because they realize most people probably already have holiday plans.

But they think the event will reap benefits beyond the day itself. Swift has already met one new person via the FB invite who wants to hang out after the holiday.

“Moving here by myself, I’ve really appreciated the sense of Fishtown community,” Swift said. “I want to create a sense of community for those people who don’t have family around. That’s what the holidays are for me.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...