Cathy Daniels, better known as Mama Cat, said people can connect over food. “Feed the body, you feed the spirit,” she said. “We want our unhoused family to know that we do love and support them and we can have fun together.”
She does not describe people trying to survive on the streets as homeless: “They are unhoused family. The streets are their homes.”
Daniels and a group of activists started cooking food for protestors in the streets of Ferguson in 2014. Later, she and other volunteers provided repast meals for grieving families after funerals.
“The first thing we started doing was repasts for families of crime victims.” Daniels said. “It started with a police killing of a young man named Antonio Martin in Berkeley and the family didn’t have enough money to bury their child. So we got together and did a fundraiser so we could raise enough money for them to bury their son. Then we got together and we cooked and provided the repast.”
Mama Cat and her husband had to bury their son 11 years ago.
“I know from personal experience,” she said, “when you leave your child in the cemetery, you need somebody to love on you.”
They wound up cooking at back-to-back repasts. When food was leftover, she took it to homeless shelters.
“I understand, because I’ve been there,” she said. At one time, she had to live in her vehicle for a while.
After civil unrest settled down, the group started getting together at various kitchens in the area once a week to feed people living on the streets, known as “PotBangerz Night.” Daniels said they have put together events with Christ Church Cathedral and Neighbors United block party, where PotBangerz provided over 500 meals, complete with funnel cakes and popcorn, entertainment and 300 backpacks.
At Neighbors United’s holiday dinner in December, Daniels said,“ Housed and unhoused, children and adults, everybody had a gift. Everybody was together. We danced and they enjoyed together, and that’s what makes community. You don’t have to have a roof over your head.”
Now, on a daily basis, volunteers continue to use their own resources to address what they say area political leadership is not paying enough attention to: serving the needs of all people, not just those with wealth, power and influence.
“Mayor Krewson is so indifferent, it’s scary,” she said.
Originally from New York, Daniels went to culinary school and is trained to do what is her labor of love.
The group has received support from the Urban League over the years and, PotBangerz is making the move from a grassroots movement to a nonprofit organization, in part, thanks to seed money received from social justice advocate Rev. Traci Blackmon’s birthday wish fundraiser on Facebook. It is called “PotBangerz – Feed the Body Mission.”
In just a few days, Blackmon’s fundraiser brought in $14,737 to support groups like PotBangerz, as well as churches, organizations and efforts that are grassroots – all collectively doing ongoing work to provide cots in warm buildings, food in the bellies and weather-appropriate clothing to keep people from freezing to death on the streets. Just this winter, one man froze to death in a dumpster while another man froze to death inside a portable restroom.
“I set it up as a way to be able to put some money in the hands of people,” said Rev. Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant and the executive minister of Justice and Witness for the United Church of Christ, based in Cleveland.
“People gave as little as $5 and as much as $500, and every dime of that money helps,” Blackmon said. “When people come together and put our ‘little bit’ and our ‘lot’ with other people, then we can make a difference in people’s lives.”
PotBangerz was awarded $1,000 from that fund.
“That $1,000 was seed money that we put into an account so it can grow so we can help more people,” Daniels said.
One young man who owns a bus has been using it to transport people to safety as a warming station at night for homeless people. He received money to buy more gasoline. St. Louis Street Medics received money for first aid supplies. Other groups and churches supported by fundraiser proceeds include St. Louis Winter Outreach, Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, St. Peter AME Church, Destiny Church, Freedom Arts at Apostle Church, and Christ Church Cathedral.
Supplies were also purchased for unhoused guests, such as underwear, socks, feminine hygiene products, flashlights, gloves, hats, cough drops, lip balm, blankets, pillows and other nonperishables, Blackmon said.
“These current-day angels don’t just serve in freezing weather,” Blackmon said. “They serve all year around.”
See more about the work of PotBangerz – Feed the Body Mission on its Facebook page.