In a cupboard in our tiny pantry/furnace room/laundry there is a stack of cloth napkins. The all-cotton ones look a bit wrinkly since ironing them would make them less green. (So, OK, I don’t like to iron, but “green” sounds better.) We use them regularly, and when company comes no one seems to give a fig that they seldom match around the table.
They are there because of Jovanka Djordjevich.
In the early 2000s I coordinated a project called HEAL (Healthy Eating and Active Living in Northern British Columbia). The people I met through the diabetes-prevention project were the kind who inspire you with their verve and commitment.
Our territory was huge. It started in Bella Coola on the west, wound through Lac La Hache, around the south side of Wells Gray Provincial Park and ended at the Alberta border. Every little hamlet, town, and First Nations community north of that curvy line was welcome to be part of HEAL.
So you can imagine how thrilled we were on those rare occasions we were able to bring a group together and meet face to face. We generally gathered in Prince George, which was about as central as we could get. That’s where Jovanka came in. She was an absolute whiz at organizing the dozens of details that make a gathering run smoothly.
She was also the sort who does more than talk about green living. She models it. Paper and styrofoam never made it onto a HEAL table. Neither did paper napkins or plastic utensils. With Jovanka in charge, the extra work and expense of being environmentally responsible were not negotiable. We gave more thought to the real cost of our wasteful ways when she was around. She did not natter on about what we “should” do to be more loving toward the planet. She modeled the small changes that add up to major shifts.
I was already trying to clean up my own act, but I’m embarrassed to say paper napkins were one of my downfalls. I had good cloth napkins for company but not for everyday. Jovanka changed that. I discovered Value Village was a good source of cheap cloth napkins, and I’ve never looked back.
Jovanka impressed me in so many ways. She is a talented artist, a woman who contributes ceaselessly to her community, and a hard-working daughter who continues to help out with her family’s farm. (Stoney Paradise is outside Kelowna and a long way from where she lives now.)
In the years since I met Jovanka, I’ve lost track of all the ways she influenced me because they’re just part of who I’ve become. But the napkins? That’s one I’ll never forget because it’s not just about cloth versus paper. It’s about the planet.