By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer |
Before the sun reaches its place in the sky on some mornings, Taylor Garcia-Grisham is on his way from his third-shift job at Kroger to one he created out of a local need.
The aroma of cinnamon and butter floated through St. Benedict’s Shelter on Wednesday as French toast sizzled on the griddles. Also on the menu was sausage and a fruit medley of pineapples and strawberries.
Garcia-Grisham can be found there — dressed in a chef’s suit and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap — cooking breakfast once a week.
“I love cooking, I figured I could use it in a good way,” said the 25-year-old, who graduated April 29 with a degree in criminal justice from Kentucky Wesleyan College.
He became a volunteer at St. Benedict’s, an emergency homeless shelter for men, last spring as part of a class requirement. Usually, students volunteer as overnight monitors there and at Owensboro Regional Recovery. He did both.
But he wanted to take it a step further.
“It’s a smaller place, and they do have things like cereal for breakfast, there’s not always the resources for a hot breakfast,” Garcia-Grisham said. “I started getting in the kitchen (in October 2016) twice a month, based on what I could afford — about $100 a month.
“Then I thought, that’s great, but what if I could do a meal a week?’ ” he said.
So, he started a GoFundMe campaign in April that raised $1,200 in 24 hours. Of that, $100 was used to purchase cooking supplies such as chafing dishes, because “some of the guys get up early for work, some need a little more rest, so we want keep the food warm for them,” he said.
The remaining funds will provide 22 meals for the average of 50 or 60 men at the shelter.
Homelessness has long been a concern for Garcia-Grisham, who is from Los Angeles and moved to Owensboro to play baseball at Brescia University before transferring to KWC. He had lofty dreams for addressing the problem when he was younger.
“When I was a kid, I always thought if I became a rich baseball player, I would open a place where homeless people could live, shower, get dressed, have job resources and work on getting back to into society,” he said.
“Well, I know I won’t be a rich baseball player, and I would still like to see a place like that. But I realized this (cooking breakfast) is something I can do now,” he said. “It’s heartwarming to see their appreciation.”
On July 10, he’ll be sworn in as an officer with the Evansville Police Department. But he’s committed to the volunteer work until then. He will likely start to cook more than once a week to meet the 22-meal goal, he said.
“I’m sad to leave Owensboro, but I feel honored to be with EPD,” he said. “But it’s only a 40-minute drive; I can still come back to serve at the shelter.”
He said the experience at the shelter and at ORR will help him throughout his career.
“A police officer can’t change the world, but they can change their small part of it,” he said. “That’s that I want to do.”
Law enforcement has been a goal since his teen years.
“I love watching the news and learning about everything, so I always saw a lot of bank robberies, the North Hollywood shootout, things like that on TV growing up,” he said. “It made me think, sometimes people get to a point where they can’t help themselves and they make the wrong decisions. I always wanted to help those kind of people and I feel all the connections at my school and volunteering has prepared me for that.”
Volunteering also helps him understand people, he said.
“A lot of times, as an officer, you’ll interact with homeless people or people with addictions,” he said. “Some people might see them and think, ‘Why don’t they just get a job?’ and might not treat them the best. But for so many, it’s not their fault they’re in this position. They might have lost a job or just ran into hard times and they’re looking for a way to change that.
“It’s hard for an outsider to see and understand. Being here opens my eyes and reminds me to always treat people right,” he said. “I think these experiences are important for any student going into law enforcement. It might help some officers handle situations and people differently.”
Garcia-Grisham eventually wants to be a U.S. Marshal, but he has no plans to pursue cooking full-time, though he has worked in restaurants and catering.
“I never want to be a professional chef, ’cause I don’t want to lose my love for it,” he said.
His skills in the kitchen grew from days spent with his grandmother who lived around the corner from his home. They started with desserts when he was about 6 years old and later got into other dishes.
“She passed on when I was 12, so I had a good few years with her cooking lessons,” he said. “I felt the need to continue as a way to remember her. Plus, when I started living by myself, I knew no one was goon make me food so I better be good at it!” He uses recipes to a point, but likes to add his own flair.
There weren’t any complaints from the shelter residents, just their smiles in the small line to the kitchen.
“He’s a great volunteer here and the food is good,” said Sam Powers, of Owensboro. “I’ve gotten to know him a little. He’s going on to be a police officer, he’s a good guy. We’ll miss him. But the breakfasts have been a blessed thing for us.”
The GoFundMe campaign is still accessible at GoFundMe.com, search “St. Benedict’s Shelter Breakfast.”
Angela Oliver, 270-691-7360, firstname.lastname@example.org