Dorothy Day Place serves up Thanksgiving with the help of volunteers, new CEO

The frenzy of kitchens across the Twin Cities is perhaps nothing compared to the machine-like precision of the Thanksgiving preparations at Dorothy Day Place in St. Paul.

It’s here where a small army of volunteers need few marching orders, because they are all seasoned hands. Paul Sederstrom, a retired human resources director, has been volunteering to prepare meals here each week for nearly 15 years.

"I think it helps us, the volunteers, as much as it helps the people we’re serving," said Sederstrom.

Kevin Johnson has been volunteering for 17 years. "I love the people, I love the staff," said Johnson.

And working alongside of them carving up 30 turkeys is a newer set of hands, the new CEO of Catholic Charities, Michael Goar.

"You know, it’s good space for me," said Goar. "I enjoy being in the kitchen. And more important, I enjoy being a part of the community of volunteers and be able to learn from them and learn their stories."

But if the kitchen has a deep connection for Goar, it’s because he’s experienced hunger and homelessness as a child in South Korea.

"My mother is Korean, my father is African American," said Goar. "And at a young age of five years old, my mother put me in an orphanage and I grew up in an orphanage until I was 12 years old in South Korea."

Goar was adopted by a family in south Minneapolis where he spent the rest of his childhood. But the memory of his earlier life still drives him.

"So, I know firsthand growing up in that environment what food insecurity, what housing insecurity, what it means to have a caring neighbor that will give you a helping hand when you need it," explained Goar.

It’s exactly why Goar says he covets his new mission at Catholic Charities. He took over the nonprofit at the beginning of 2021 after the retirement of longtime CEO Tim Marx.

"So, when I had the opportunity to be a part of this community, I jumped in because I knew what it means for me personally and professional to be able to serve others," said Goar.

The Dorothy Day Place is now an integrated service center for the homeless.  It connects them with living space, services, and support to achieve independent living. But in this season of reflection and renewal, Goar is looking ahead.

"We are looking toward how can we improve the lives of our community members, what the sort of quality things that we can do better," said Goar.

They’re all questions that drive volunteers such as Kevin Johnson, too.

"It’s a pleasure to come in and serve the people," said Johnson.

Dorothy Day Place will be serving Thanksgiving meals from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Saint Paul Opportunity Center (422 Dorothy Day Place, St Paul, MN 55102). Like every organization, the pandemic has affected Dorothy Day Place as well. For health and spacing reasons, they are service a few less meals on Thursday, but their precautions have paid off. Less than one percent of the clients they work with have tested positive for COVID-19.