Cedric Howard, senior cook at Our Daily Bread Employment Center, arrives at work two hours early these days – but doesn’t mind the 4 a.m. start.

 “This place is like a lifesaver to me. I’m going to do anything I need to do,” he said.

Cedric graduated from Christopher Place Employment Academy, Catholic Charities’ residential program for formerly homeless men, in 2003. Shortly thereafter, a punishing blizzard hit Baltimore, shutting down the city. Cedric said he made his way to Our Daily Bread, started helping with the cooking, and earned a job offer within a few days.

But even after 17 years, “we’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said of the COVID-19 crisis.

Cedric Howard, senior cook at Our Daily Bread Employment Center, center facing the camera, with staff.

Converting in a crisis

In response to the pandemic, Our Daily Bread shifted its food distributions to meals-to-go and suspended volunteer activities. Both decisions had significant impacts on his kitchen, which typically hosts cadres of dedicated volunteers to prepare and serve meals.

Cedric has been preparing as many as 1,000 meals each day, sending around 400 across the street to the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center, also run by Catholic Charities. The 4 a.m. start allows him to prepare casseroles, chop vegetables – the kitchen still offers a vegetarian option – and set up a line to prepare the boxed meals. Each day, he also starts prepping for the next.

“Today, I panned up casseroles for tomorrow. You try to do a day ahead because you don’t know who’s going to show up. … Some of our staff might get sick. You have to be prepared,” he said. “I’ve got a system down. I try to do the best I can do, and so far, so good.”

A different perspective

Cedric said he isn’t afraid of the pandemic. He’s been “blessed” with good health, and his motivation is simple: “If Catholic Charities stopped feeding people right now, where would they eat?”

“I was in the drug game. I was in and out of prison. I’m 55, and Catholic Charities kind of saved my life,” he said. “This is more fulfilling to me than anything at the end of the day.”