“Come over tomorrow for hot cider and donuts!” a simple, last-minute invitation pinged on my phone. It was from some neighbors. They had spent the autumn afternoon texting neighbors and delivering paper invitations to neighbors they didn’t have the phone numbers for.

In its simplicity, the invitation answered my need for a low-pressure, no-obligation, casual evening for chatting with other grown-ups. It offered a safe, carefree way to start conversations and linger for a bit with the people we live closest to. Just some cider and donuts. No planning for weeks in advance. No expectation that I bring something worthy to offer for the good of the group. I didn’t even have time to put it on my calendar; all I had to do was show up to enjoy their earnest hospitality.

The invitation itself was a gift, to learn that my neighbors were thinking of me. I’m sure it warmed the hearts of everyone on the street. Even the neighbors who couldn’t come at least received the message that we are the kind of neighborhood that appreciates the company of each other. It really sets a tone for everyone.

While my spouse took our kids for the night, I walked over to find my neighbors had carefully set up a small table with a box of donuts from a local shop, a few carafes of hot cider, and a tray of cups and napkins, atop a festive tablecloth. That was the extent of it. The simplicity was refreshing and inviting. It communicated to me that what’s important is not impressing others with our capable entertaining skills or the quality of refreshments we have to offer. Instead, it emphasized that what’s really important is that everyone knows they are welcome.

Our hosts sat in chairs facing the street. When they saw me approaching, they greeted me warmly, and even jumped up to bring me a chair. They shared their gladness that I had come and their hopes that their invitations had been received well by our other neighbors. It takes a decent amount of vulnerability to invite others over. Relationships require a bit of risk. All doubts aside, the other neighbors started coming over, one or two at a time.

We met a new neighbor from a few houses down, a young single guy who just moved in. We connected with another neighbor from up the other way who has lived in her home for more than 50 years. The couple next door stopped by to share some sweets before they left to buy supplies for their ofrenda. My neighbor took notes to remember the names of people who stopped by. She cares enough to want to remember their names the next time they connect. She will probably be praying for them by name between their conversations, too.

People took cups of hot cider and stood in the yard as the cider cooled, until it was safe to sip. Meanwhile, we learned about each other, swapped tips on pest control, shared stories about the neighborhood school, and took advantage of the chance to really enjoy the place where we live. The weather was warm and crunching fall leaves added to the ambiance.

“I’m getting a warm, fuzzy feeling inside now!” our host exclaimed with a smile as she refilled the cup of a middle-aged father. He offered his teenage son’s services as a leaf-and-snow remover. Our youngest neighbor, strapped in a baby carrier on his mother’s chest, took it all in with wide eyes; his preschool-aged brother asked our host for a hug using a nickname he made just for her.

Soon enough, it was time to put away the carafes and chairs and say goodnight. Together, the neighbors cleaned up the simple table and chairs. We all thanked our hosts for taking the effort to organize the evening. Then we walked home, bodies and souls warmed from the hot cider and pleasant conversation.

There’s something to be said about taking the space and time to appreciate the places where we live. With a little bit of intention, we can create opportunities for neighbors to come out of their homes and connect with each other.