Cathedral of St. John the Divine Blog

Staff Spotlight: Thomas Perry REBECCA MERRILL NOVEMBER 20, 2017

Thomas
Name: Thomas Perry
Title: Program Manager, Cathedral Community Cares
Neighborhood/town you live in: Inwood
Length of time you’ve worked at the Cathedral: 16 years

What is your origin story?
I was going to school for cooking and heard there was a soup kitchen at the Cathedral that needed volunteers. I showed up and for the first few weeks I was on dish duty but when George, who had run the soup kitchen for years, heard I was a chef, he had me start helping him with the cooking. I basically became his Sous Chef. The biggest thing I learned from George is that we want to give everyone here a restaurant experience from the food that we serve to the way that people are treated. A few years later George passed away and I came on as the part-time as Food Manager. About a year ago, I took on managing all of CCC.

What is a typical work day?
We’re here Sunday through Friday. There are three of us, so whoever gets here first opens up and checks in with security. Usually there are two or three people waiting either outside or in the Cathedral. They are looking for help with food stamps, housing, job referrals. They need a place to sleep or sometimes, especially now as the weather gets colder, a jacket. We have specific times our Clothing Closet is open for these services, but if we’re here we’re not going to turn someone away if they’ve made the trip here. If we don’t have what the person is looking for, we are a part of a great network of organizations up here so we know of the places that serve hot meals every day or can provide a bed and the other organizations know to send people to us for the things that we can provide.

What is your favorite event or ongoing program at the Cathedral?
I love the big events we do like the Halloween Extravaganza and the Blessing of the Animals. It was at the St. Francis Day service that I saw a camel for the first time and got to touch two snakes!

What is your favorite item in the Cathedral or on its grounds?
In the summer, I really enjoy taking 45 minutes or an hour to sit in the Biblical Garden. It’s so peaceful and quiet, it feels like an escape from the city.

Who is your favorite peacock and why?
Jim, who got hurt a few years ago, because he’s a survivor.

What is your experience with organized religion?
I grew up in NYC going to a Baptist Church. Sundays were for studying, piano lessons, and prayer. I learned that God would always be there for me. Now I’m here in the soup kitchen on Sundays. We’re serving food in the same building at the same time that church services are happening. The clergy usually stop in during the meal times so it really feels like we are just an extension of what is happening upstairs. We get such a variety of people who are coming in with all kinds of different problems but when it comes down to it, they all need the same thing—a warm meal.

What do you normally do after work or on your days off?
Hang out with my two daughers.

What are your favorite NYC cultural institutions?
I go to the events at MoMA PS1 a lot. They have these afternoon music shows where you get to listen to great music and look at cool art.

What do you love doing in Morningside Heights?
There are so many different types of people here. I walk around and stop in restaurants and see Columbia students interacting with the long-time residents and all of the different business owners. It’s a great community.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My Mom and Dad both told me to be yourself and be honest with yourself. They told it to me when I went to high school, when I graduated, when I went to college. I just like to remind myself to be happy I’m alive every day.

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