Listening Post #8: Sanctuary In The Kitchen

When you lose your home, there are a multitude of other, intangible things that you also must leave behind. High on the list of what displaced women hunger for are culinary rituals: baking cookies with the kids, cutting, chopping, measuring, pouring the ingredients of a favorite recipe; wrapping nostrils around the aroma of Grandma’s memorable Macaroni and Cheese

These losses are just a few of the many griefs carried by homeless women and their children: lost partners, lost love, lost income, lost security, lost stability, loss, loss, loss, all compounded and made more difficult by the loss of the hearth, that heart of the home. How heal from life’s hurts when even the simple joy of preparing your favorite comfort food is only a dream?

Let me introduce you to the Dream Team: Ms. Sherrice Jones, Mr. Alvin  James, and Mr. Allen Brevard, the remarkable magicians in the kitchen at Jane Addams Place, a shelter for homeless women and children in Philadelphia. They are healing the world every day by creating sanctuary in the kitchen as they pour out their love like honey, not only into the food they prepare, but into the hearts and lives of shelter residents.

Under their leadership and with their cooperation, mothers can cook with their kids on Mommy and Me days. Other times, favorite recipes are solicited and then prepared with assistance from those who contribute them. Children mourning the loss of family barbecues are intentionally invited to the love-feast of an outdoor barbecue with all the trimmings. Familiar smells and tastes emanate from the kitchen, summoning all those near-forgotten feelings of comfort, of nurture, of Home. The meals prepared in this sacred space are intended not only to feed bodies, but to nourish souls as well; you can practically taste the love that is the main ingredient in every recipe.

The trio who work this magic are supported by administrative policies and regular training that encourage the creation of Sanctuary[1]

throughout the shelter. But it is the utter goodness and deep spirit of loving kindness embodied in Sherrice, Allen, and Alvin that provide the alchemical moments here. Collectively, they are committed to living the Sanctuary commitments of open communication, nonviolence, and shared democracy. And they support each other in this vital work, every step, every day. Sherrice says that she is empowered to do what she does because “If I sweat, someone hands me a napkin, If I trip, I know someone will catch me. We respect eachother, and no one here has ego problems.”

As I listen to her, I know in some deep place that this is what I and we all are hungry for: someone to help us wipe our sweat and tears, someone to catch us if we fall. Sherrice and Allen and Alvin are teaching us how to satisfy that hunger; and how to be bread for one another. Maybe today, each of us could get our egos out of the way and intercept a tear or a tumble, create a little Sanctuary Space in our own corner of the universe.

[1] For more information about Creating Sanctuary as a way to heal from trauma, see Sandra Bloom’s work and website at

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