It’s the perfect time to dine and drink alfresco, and Pittsburgh pals Colleen Peddycord and Tierra Thorne are laying down the best way to serve beautiful picnics with a purpose. They’re the founders of Blanket & Board, an event planning business that they started in June 2020 with a focus on creating thoughtful experiences while giving back to the community.
“At the time, Tierra and I were working together as social workers at a childhood trauma treatment center, and George Floyd had just been murdered. We were in the midst of the pandemic, and everyone was stressed out, scared, and anxious,” Colleen told The Incline. “We were at Tierra’s house on her porch, and we made a charcuterie board and were like ‘we should do this as a thing.’”
“Starting out, we just wanted to do a self-care Sunday and bring people together in a safe, socially distanced way,” Tierra added. “Plus, we both really love the outdoors. We were so over-stimulated by everything, and being in nature and in our parks is so calming.”
What started as a backyard event and safe way for friends and family to gather during the pandemic quickly gained steam and became a popular series of pop-up picnics across the city.
“People were really needing it,” Tierra said. “They really needed to get outside.”
When you book a picnic with Blanket & Board, you’re given a stunning setup with flowers, candles, blankets, and pillows, as well as a charcuterie platter featuring fresh fruits and veggies, meats and cheese, bagels and crackers, and more (Vegan or gluten free? Don’t worry. They have options for you too). Just show up at the park of your choice at the agreed-upon time, and the arrangement will be ready for your picnic pleasures.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Colleen and Tierra at their Blanket & Board one-year anniversary celebration. What follows is our interview, edited for clarity and length.
Francesca: Happy first birthday to the business! What has your favorite part about Blanket & Board been so far?
Colleen: I like the creative aspect of it. It’s really nice to create this sweet space for other people. One time, these people were finishing up with a picnic and just laying together after playing this couples card game that we put in the picnic. We were early and just watched them for like 15 minutes.
Tierra: They were holding hands and passing the cards back and forth. They told us it was the best anniversary [celebration] and we were like “We did that! We made this happen!”
We’ve also done picnics for young girls through Fro Gang, and they just felt like princesses for a day. These children — who have so much trauma — don’t get to live their best lives every day. But for these two hours, we waited on them hand and foot, told them how pretty they were, and told them they didn’t have to worry about anything. We love it, and I can see this being an annual thing.
How has your background as social workers influenced the mission of your business?
Colleen: As social workers, our primary mission is to uplift and give voices to at risk and underserved communities. Our understanding of ourselves and others revolves around a “person in environment” concept, meaning we pay close attention to environmental factors and how changes to space and circumstance can support well-being. A big part of creating a safe environment involves how we feel in our physical space and having a network of people with whom we feel we belong.
Blanket & Board is all about creating a beautiful, relaxed atmosphere where all people can come together, share food, and celebrate one another. We want to use our business as a platform to encourage self-care and relationship building in addition to getting people outside to experience the healing power of nature.
Tierra: Also, I’m Black in Pittsburgh. It’s not a city that has a lot of opportunities for people who look like me. I know that I am really one of the fortunate ones, and I want to be able to bring light to those issues and disparities that Black people have in Pittsburgh. The data is there. You could literally go anywhere else in the United States. Black people can move to Arkansas and increase their life expectancy by three years; it’s that bad here.
Blanket & Board picnic in a Pittsburgh park. (📸: Blanket & Board)
A portion of all Blanket & Board proceeds are donated to local organizations and nonprofits. Why is that an integral part of your business and what local organizations have you supported so far?
Colleen: It is important to us to highlight supportive resources in the community. For 2021, we plan to donate to Healthy Village, Fro gang, SisTers PGH, Strong Women, Strong Girls, and When She Thrives. These are local organizations that focus on creating support systems for local young people and women.
We are donating a portion of our proceeds to nonprofits in the area because we want them to have visibility. If we can have an Instagram presence or whatever, that’s nice. But we already have jobs. We noticed that a few more picnic businesses have popped up in Pittsburgh, and as we noticed that happening, we really want to stay true to our mission in supporting other minority and women owned businesses in Pittsburgh.
Some of the most valuable conversations happen when you are at a table, eating food, and surrounded by good company. Blanket & Board came at a time when people were really desperate to have these experiences and needed to get outside. So what types of conversations do you hope your picnics inspire?
Tierra: I want people to meticulously think about the person that they are sitting with as someone that they value in their lives.
Colleen: Open, safe conversations where people can ask questions and talk about whatever in a safe space. We do a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, and girls’ brunches. Sometimes we forget to celebrate the people in our lives who support us; we choose the people we surround ourselves with every day.
Tierra: I also want people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s just the reality: things aren’t always peachy and cream. A lot of conversations are difficult to have.
Colleen: Right now a lot of “difficult” conversations have to do with privilege. Acknowledging privilege doesn’t dismiss your experience, and having privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced hardship or worked hard in your life. Depending on who you are, it means you inherently started off further up on the ladder and having an awareness of your experience in relation to others is important if we want to live in a world where every person deserves a fair chance. Having an awareness of your privilege allows you to use that privilege as leverage to uplift and provide space for more understanding.
Do you have any heartfelt anecdotes from past picnics you’d like to share?
Colleen: We had this very nice couple who adopted a couple of kids, and they just left the nest. They were like “Oh my god, we just needed to find something to do during COVID.” We ended up sitting down with them after their picnic and hanging out for another hour. There was also one woman who had a baby during the pandemic and said that this gave her and her husband a reason to get outside and have a sense of normalcy; it also allowed their child to see other kids for the first time.
Tierra: We have a picnic coming up with neighbors who have known each other for 40 years; it’s really sweet. There’s also a mother and daughter who booked a picnic last year during the beginning of school that are doing it again this year.
To find out Tierra and Colleen’s picnic must-haves, their tips on how to throw a gathering B&B style, and what you can expect if you book a picnic, read our full Q-and-A here.
What are your must-have picnic items?
Tierra: Fresh flowers, wine, charcuterie… and games! Things to spark conversation.
Colleen: String lights and food. Speaking of games, we have a deck of Actually Curious cards that we include in the picnics. It’s a Black-owned conversation card game meant to encourage empathy.
Do you have any tips for The Incline readers on how to throw a good picnic in the ‘Burgh – B&B style?
Tierra: I think the people are the most important part of a picnic. We can put it together, but if you don’t have good company, it’s not a good picnic.
Colleen: On top of having a blanket and food, you really need a good view. And there’s plenty of places with good views in Pittsburgh. One of our favorite spots to throw a picnic is the West End Overlook.
What can people expect when they book a Blanket & Board picnic?
Tierra: Our niche is not just a picnic. It’s a space, a feeling. I think that’s what separates us. The thoughtfulness, intention, and our mission. When people book [with us], they know that their money is going to be worth it.
Colleen: They can also expect our attention to detail. Some people allow us more creative range, others give us more guidance. We can customize a color scheme and chalk board to go with the picnic. We’re also really eco-friendly; all of our items are reusable or biodegradable.
🌻 Looking for something besides a pop-up picnic? You can order DIY picnic boxes for your whole office or book Blanket & Board to create a grazing table for your next party. To learn more about Blanket & Board’s services, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.