Pre-pandemic, when interviewees asked PCC staff what they loved most about working at PCC, the answer was almost always the potluck. It’s an answer I was given and one I’ve also used. This year, after a three-year break, PCC’s November potluck returned. And it did not disappoint.
Given that the potluck return coincided with the tail end of our 30th anniversary celebrations, I wondered what the potluck as a tradition said about PCC as an organization. To find out, I asked several long-time PCCers for their PCC memories, potluck traditions, and what has anchored them to this organization for so many years.
The more things change…
Folks who started around a decade ago remember a couple of major transitions: shifting the safety net to electronic health records, and enacting PCC’s very first CEO transition. Sarah Frazell, Director of Behavioral Health Programs, recalls not just entering a paper-based safety net but what “a huge shift in healthcare delivery” the switch really was.
“It's been really wonderful to see the organization's evolution and the growth that comes as the inaugural CEO retires and passes that baton over to new leadership,” says Chief Operating Officer Hillery Tsumba, who joined the PCC during Steve Galen’s tenure. “And I think that we've come through that really well, and proven that it's not about any one charismatic individual, but that it's really about the organization as a whole, and all of the people that contribute, both within PCC and with our partners.”
Yet, for all that difference, there’s also been a marked consistency in how we work. “I joined the PCC in 2010, so it's been 13 years,” says Fareed Anjum, Director of Data and Informatics. “When I started, people had the same kind of and urge to make things better, to make things flow more easily, no matter what the area is, and I think that is a very persistent feeling in the organization still.”
Even the switch to telework during the pandemic was something of a return to our origins. Chief Information Officer Tom Lewis—who has volunteered or worked with PCC since the late nineties—says that for a time PCC “was really a virtual organization that would meet in the offices and conference rooms of various organizations around the county.
“The first real office that PCC had was in the the lower level walk-out basement of a tiny strip mall in Gaithersburg. We used to joke that our conference room was the deli that was above the office.”
Speaking of food…
That association of team time with food seems to be firmly cemented in our organizational DNA. Some of it is the very practical way food breaks down barriers among folks who may not see each other that often, as with PCC staff who work out of safety net clinics or other community settings, like Community Resources Coordinator Maria Torres. “That time to just come together as friends and coworkers and colleagues, it's always my favorite thing about PCC,” says Danielle. Medbank Client Services Specialist Sabina Orellana notes that the spirit of potluck was common among office teams beyond the formal potlucks, including bringing food to share with each other on Fridays.
What people bring to the annual potlucks varies widely, based on staff cultural backgrounds and relationships to cooking. “Although it's not stated, one of the things that is wonderful about the PCC potluck is that it's sort of like the culinary experience that captures the diversity of the team,” Hillery explains. “So in a sense, it's not just about bringing some delicious food. It's also about sharing your culture.”
Director of Client Services Marisol Ortiz is known for bringing a Puerto Rican dish with alternating layers of beef filling and fried plantain. “Most of the time I bring the pastelon, which represents to me home,” she explains. “So to bring that dish to the people who I work with is to let them know in some way that I feel with them at home.”
Maria echoes that feeling: “I’ve been in different agencies, but this is the only place where I feel like I am home.”