Emerging from pandemic related isolation has produced a feeling of social awkwardness in more than a few folks, but the Oak Park Social Club is addressing this re-entry issue by bringing people together in a variety of area restaurants including Kettlestrings Tavern, Duffy’s Tavern, Beer Shop and Taco Mucho.
On March 9, club members filled up Taco Mucho, 220 Harrison St., on an otherwise quiet Wednesday evening. Clutching artisan tacos and sipping strawberry margaritas, revelers gathered in the bright and cheery taqueria to make first time connections or chat up people they had met at prior social club gatherings. Some popped in for a quick drink while others savored a sit-down meal.
“Having the Oak Park Social Club at Taco Mucho was an absolute pleasure,” said Ron Aleman, owner of Taco Mucho. “Seeing people getting back out and enjoying themselves at restaurants is a very welcome sign of things to come!”
The scheduled gatherings, organized through the popular Meet Up app, are the brainchild of Terra Schultz and Gwen Hassan. The longtime Oak Park residents met when their children were both in the Spanish immersion program at Lincoln Elementary. Their children are now in high school, but their friendship has remained intact.
The duo started Oak Park Social Club in October 2021 and membership has soared to more than 400. Meet Up groups exist for all types of people from the city to the suburbs and suit a broad array of interests — there are book clubs, cycling groups and even a group specifically for people who like to meditate in Downers Grove. The Oak Park Social Club exists to include everybody. The group does not have membership requirements or fees — simply download the app and meet up.
“People have a real need to feel connected,” said Schultz. “I hope we can become a pillar in Oak Park and keep building community for good.”
Sensitive to pandemic related isolation and loneliness, Schulz and Hassan wanted to create an inclusive and safe space for people to make meaningful connections while supporting area businesses and giving back to the community through support of local non-profit organizations.
“We do everything we can to make sure our gatherings are mutually beneficial for local businesses,” said Hassan. “Our goal is to provide demand on slow nights, and we never ask to come without input from restaurants.”
Rather than collecting membership dues, Oak Park Social Club encourages (but does not require)s members to make donations to Empowering Gardens, 7730 Madison St. in Forest Park. The non-profit, dedicated to providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, is seeking $225,000 to purchase the land they currently rent in Forest Park.
Schultz and Hassan are excited about developing a leadership team in the future and look forward to connecting with more restaurants for meet up events. For now they are thrilled to facilitate face-to-face interactions and remain committed to engaging with every club goer in thoughtful ways. They are continually surprised by the diverse array of attendees the group attracts. They have doctors, lawyers and even an airline pilot in the fold. Some members are married, while others are single, widowed, or divorced — a few married couples regularly attend together. All are welcome, but everyone in the club welcomes turning strangers into familiar faces one meet-up at a time.
The Oak Park Social Club is heading to Beer Shop’s Bring Your Own Vinyl Night on March 17 and also has plans to attend the Forest Park Spring Wine Walk and Shop as group on April 23.
All you need to do is download the app and meet up.