Coming together with home cookin’

Like many who walk through the doors of Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center, Perry was in uncharted territory when he first came in looking for a place to sleep.

“I didn’t know any thing about homelessness. The only thing I knew about homelessness I saw on TV,” he said.

Perry, 68, never had been without a place to live before. He spent his life being a hard worker and always had a place to hang his hat. In his senior years, Perry struggled to find a place he could afford that would accept him. Dorothy Day Center was there when he was most in need.

He slept on the floor of the shelter for just one month before he was able to move into Catholic Charities’ Mary Hall. There, he had a room to sleep, but he still yearned for an apartment.

When he was sleeping on the floor of Dorothy Day Center he wasn’t dreaming about a bedroom, but a kitchen. He loves to cook and hated being unable to bring people together around a table with a good meal.

“There is this thing I know about food. Food attracts people,” he said. “You’d be surprised what doors you can open with food.”

Perry worked hard to make his dream a reality while staying at Mary Hall. He completed the Catholic Charities’ Culinary Skills training program, and would cook for others in the shared kitchen when he could afford the groceries. He attended the weekly life skills group with his case manager, Marilyn Cooper. Each week, Perry and Marilyn would make a phone call to find out where Perry was on a waiting list. As a group, they cheered as his number got smaller and smaller.

After years of dreaming of a kitchen and calling on waiting lists, Perry was able to move into a CommonBond Community apartment in West Saint Paul this fall.

The building was diverse. While he made friends with a jazz musician down the hallway, Perry wanted to get to know all of his neighbors, especially those who were not like him or who didn’t speak his language.

Perry took the money he had saved and prepared a holiday feast for his neighbors. He prepared turkey, roast beef, pork shoulder, BBQ chicken, chicken and dumplings, dressing, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, beans, cabbage, salads, cakes and pies.

“Being homeless taught me things. We all different and it ain’t up to me to judge you, forget that,” he said. “I’m just a human being. I ain’t no better than anybody else. I’m somebody who can do some good. You’d be surprised what a little dinner can do.”

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