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Meet our neighbor, Joel.

These days, Joel shares an apartment in the San Antonio District in Oakland, on 17th Avenue. That’s about seven miles south of the Veterans Building where Dorothy Day House serves breakfast and lunch six days a week. But he still comes up pretty often because “the food is so good!”

From 2013 to 2018, Joel was a regular guest at Christ Church on Cedar, where DDH served for many years. Our volunteer crew remembers Joel as a calm and delightful presence. Joel said he remembers one volunteer, Ben, who made Joel’s favorite, cream of wheat. Ben retired a few years ago, but Joel still often asks, “How’s Ben?” You can just tell that Joel cares about people.

What brought him to need our services back in 2013 is rooted in that care: In 2010, Joel met the love of his life, Gwen. For both he and Gwen, it had been 9 years since they’d been in a relationship, and they fell deeply in love. “God put us together,” Gwen told Joel.

Soon after, though, Gwen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Medicare covered only a small portion of the costs of her care, so all their money and time went to that. They kept saving up for a wedding, and planned to get married on New Years Day 2012.

On December 11, 2011, Joel went to the store to get some groceries. When he got back 40 minutes later, Gwen had passed away in their apartment. “We’d been saving up, but instead of a wedding, we had a funeral.”

After all that hardship, things got hard for Joel. Gwen was gone, and he was lost. That’s when he heard about Dorothy Day House and became a regular at the breakfast program. The warm food and welcoming dining hall was a mainstay for him. As he was for those of us serving: He always had a kind word, especially for my cousin Ben, and at the time we didn’t know what he’d been going through.

These days, Joel is living in East Oakland and saving up money for some extensive dental work he needs — he didn’t want his picture taken until his smile is back in full form.

“I’m slowly rebuilding my life,” Joel told us. “If you are always negative, then negative things happen. If you think positive and do positive, then positive things happen. I know life can be difficult sometimes, and I have had my hardships. But even when I am down, I do positive and think positive. You’ve got to do both.”

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