Cathy ‘MamaCat’ Daniels Is Leaving Town, But Potbangerz Will Keep On Feeding St. Louis
Cathy “MamaCat” Daniels discovered her love of the culinary arts in Florissant, a place where the Bronx native settled after her husband retired from the Navy.
“Food is like a part of my DNA,” she told St. Louis on the Air.
But it wasn’t until after Michael Brown’s death in 2014 that Daniels became known in the St. Louis community for her cooking. She started out small — bringing snacks to protesters during the Ferguson uprising.
One day, she met some young activists who continued protesting long after most others had gone home.
“These young folks was out there sleeping on the concrete. And I’m like, ‘What are y'all doing?’” Daniels said.
They told her they weren’t leaving until there was “justice for Mike Brown.”
“So I said, ‘Right on, What can I do?’” she continued. “And one of them says a home-cooked meal won't hurt nothing. He didn't know who he was talking to. I went home and came back the next day with spaghetti, salad and garlic bread.”
That wasn’t all. Said Daniels: “It's easy to bring somebody food, drop it off and keep going. But I thought it was important to sit down and break bread with these young folks. We got very close. I love them dearly. So that's where it started. And I just started coming out every day.”
From that, Daniels founded an organization called Potbangerz. It now feeds homeless people across the region. Meals where the volunteers sit down with the people they’re serving remain a vital part of Potbangerz’s mission.
“When you break bread, you break down walls,” she said. “Over these years, relationships have been built. This is my family.”
Daniels will soon leave that family; within the next month, she’s moving to Jacksonville, Florida. But she plans to stay involved with the organization she built in St. Louis. And with the help of her daughter (“an excellent cook as well,” Daniels said, and soon a military retiree), she plans to bring the Potbangerz mission to Jacksonville, Florida. She sees a special focus on homeless veterans.
“[There are] a lot of them down there. There's so many,” she said.
Potbangerz has no plans to scale back its work in St. Louis. The organization is in the final stages of opening a home in Pine Lawn to help homeless women transition to housing.
“I always wanted to be able to get people off the street. And so this is how I chose to start,” she said. “I got room for six women. This is for straight, queer and transgender women. This is where they're going to be able to get love, and be able to go through programs, and work on themselves, and heal. It’s going to be a healing space.”
Daniels said she’s never really thought about how her life might be different if she hadn’t answered the call to feed protesters. She can’t imagine things going any other way.
“It was natural,” she said of her offer to help in any way she could. “See, I come from that background. My parents fought in the civil rights movement. My older siblings are part of the Black Power movement. This is interwoven into who I am.”
What: 'Mama Cat' Works in Progress by Theo R. Welling
When: Sept. 3-25
Where: The May Gallery, 8300 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves, MO 63119
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.