How two neighbors went from strangers to sharing Thanksgiving together

Susana Orrego Villegas and her husband, Edward White, an international student living in Brookline, Massachusetts, were able to spend their first Thanksgiving with a neighbor they did not even know a month ago, all thanks to a website posting Nextdoor.

“Our first Thanksgiving Day was amazing,” Orrego Villegas told CNN. “All the food was divine.”

Orrego Villegas is on a study visa at Harvard, and when her classmates began discussing their Thanksgiving plans, she became curious about the American tradition, as Colombia does not have a holiday like Thanksgiving.

On October 26, she posted a photo of her and her husband to the Nextdoor app and asked if anyone was willing to share Thanksgiving dinner with them. In the post, she wrote, “We are a super nice couple and would like to know more about American culture. I would like to have our first traditional Thanksgiving with an American family.”

The post received hundreds of responses from neighbors who offered them a seat at their dinner table in the city a few miles southwest of Boston. But the practicing nurse, Carol Lesser, was the chosen host for the couple.

“She got a lot of offers about where to go,” Lesser told CNN. “I said to her, ‘Wow, we won the lottery. You’re coming to us!'”

Edward and Susana, who are sitting on the far left, join Carol, who is standing on the far right, and her family for Thanksgiving dinner.

The kindness of strangers

And on Thursday, the couple joined forces with Lesser and more than 20 other guests to celebrate the holiday around a traditional table filled with turkey, stuffing and green beans.

Orrego Villegas raved to CNN about their experience and how accommodating Lesser and her family were. “Not only did we eat a delicious meal, but we talked to every member of the family. We felt like part of the pod.”

“We felt an instant connection,” Lesser told CNN. “They stayed for 8 hours and talked to everyone. We discovered so many similarities.”

Neighbors even discussed reversing the situation by letting Lesser visit the couple’s hometown of Colombia.

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For Lesser, the decision to open his home to strangers was easy. She told CNN that for nearly 30 years she has been renting out rooms in her house to international students in the area.

“When I was young, I traveled, and if it were not for the kindness of strangers, I would not have learned as much as I did about the cultures,” Lesser said.

She added that the message that Orrego Villegas had posted hit a chord.

“This beautiful woman’s post spoke to me. She had a real curiosity about what we’re doing here on holiday.”

A candle in the dark

Other neighbors who were not available on Thanksgiving Day offered to meet with the couple a second time, and the couple spent time with a few families even before the holiday.

“The people were super friendly,” said Orrego Villegas. “One family gave us an American heritage book, and the other showed us pictures of when they visited Colombia.”

Susana and Carol look forward to meeting again.

Orrego Villegas and Lesser both say this experience has given them hope for the community. The two women expressed the importance of being a light in the dark and being kind to their neighbors.

Orrego Villegas says her view of Bostonians has changed. “Here in Boston, my first impression was that a lot of people are not saying hello on the street. After this post, I realized that people are super friendly and accommodating.”

Lesser says she’s looking for moments where people can reach out and trust each other.

“It does not matter to me to act as if what you do makes a difference,” Lesser said. “It does.”

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