Sunday, July 15, 2001

Our Daily Bread

Cookie's nourishing blessing

        Some people in the neighborhood — that neighborhood being the beleaguered Over-the-Rhine — call her Sister. So I thought she was a nun, even though her hair is blond and she wears lipstick and mascara and good jewelry.

        What do I know? I'm Methodist.

        Besides, Cookie Vogelpohl always ends our telephone conversations with a benediction. “God bless,” she says, with an air that suggests this is not merely a pleasantry, but a direct request on my behalf.

        And if what she does every day is not a calling, then I have misunderstood the meaning of the word. While the committees are forming and the protesters are boycotting and the thugs are looting, Cookie ministers to the poor, beginning with their most immediate need — food.

        For the past 17 years, she has been the soul of Our Daily Bread on Logan Street. She started the place after she saw a man rummaging around in a trash bin for food. “I saw this guy and thought "you don't have to have a master's degree to feed somebody.'”

        And that's what she has been doing ever since.

Rainy day fund hit

        She commandeered the basement of a school and served turkey noodle soup to nine people. Then she found a deserted building on Logan Street. The owner told Cookie he didn't think it was rentable space, but if she fixed it up she could have six months' free rent.

        Cookie and a volunteer crew evicted vermin, tore out walls, replastered, put in plumbing. The owner pronounced himself pleased enough to begin charging $450 a month. Later, the county bought the building and scared everybody with an aborted attempt to charge an additional $500 a month.

        Finally, the building was sold to the city, which wants the space as part of a new $2.5 million kitchen facility for Findlay Market.

        So, Cookie and company will move Aug. 1 (right about the time of her 60th birthday) to 1730 Race Street. This time they own the building, a considerable stretch. Our Daily Bread feeds 300 people every weekday with money that comes entirely from its donor mailing list of about 6,000.

Stepping down

        Cookie is stepping down as director “to spend more of my time in the kitchen, with the folks.” She'll also help the new director, Mary Jo Holohan, raise money.

        “Our rainy days funds are taking a beating right now.”

        Oh, and I found out she has never been a nun. But she has worked as an airline ticket agent. Her current clientele, she says, is more polite and considerably more grateful. They keep coming, she says, their need unabated by government programs and community promises. Cookie's “folks” are the poorest of the poor.

        “Sure, some people may take advantage. But I see so many who are helpless, the mentally ill, the older folks, the children, and that's when I say I don't care. I don't understand the whole problem, but I'm not going to judge. Somebody else can do that. Not me. I don't know what's brought people to this, but I'm not going to decide who should be given to, or who should be loved.”

        So, people who come to Our Daily Bread leave with full bellies. Some will get help with eviction notices. Others are given donated items — toothbrushes, bus tokens, soap, gloves.

        And everybody gets Cookie's blessing.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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