By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — There must be something that connects veterans to each other —a tie that gives insights into the needs of other vets. At least that seems to be what happened after Rev. Mr. Bill Pearson, deacon at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Blue Springs and a Vietnam veteran, visited the recently opened St. Michael’s Veterans Center and met some of the veterans getting ready to move in.
Many of the new tenants had no furniture or ways to cook food in their new kitchens. Permanent homes need furniture and cookware.
Deacon Pearson helped move a donation of beds and bedding to the Veterans Center. And, as he pulled into his driveway one evening, he saw his next door neighbor Gary Martin getting out of his car. Inspiration!
Deacon Pearson hailed his neighbor, who happens to be president of Vita Craft Corporation in Shawnee, Kan. As the two men chatted, Deacon Pearson told Martin about the Veterans Center, the soon -to-be -moving-in veterans and the need for cookware. “Did Gary think maybe Vita Craft could help?” Certainly!
Early in the afternoon of July 10, Deacon Pearson and three friends, Vietnam veterans all, arrived at Vita Craft to pick up the donated cookware. Members of the staff had stacked the boxes of cookware to make it easy to load. To Deacon Pearson’s surprise and delight, Vita Craft was donating 60 sets of stainless steel cookware, all crafted at the Shawnee plant, to St. Michael’s Veterans Center.
One set was left unpacked to allow Deacon Pearson to see the cookware. Each set contained a 10 inch skillet, a 2 quart saucepan and a 4 quart Dutch oven, all with lids. Each set also contained cleanser and a polisher to clear any burned on food or scratches from the bottom of each piece. Each set came with instructions, recipes and a lifetime warranty. The donation’s retail value came to $12,000.
There was excitement at St. Michael’s when Deacon Pearson and his transportation crew arrived. As there were veterans signing leases, moving in and trying to get organized, Christina Taylor, Catholic Charities onsite service coordinator, made the decision to distribute the cookware when most of the veterans had moved in.
A few days later, after he had moved in to his new apartment, Terry Cade received his cookware. Cade, who grew up in Kansas City, Kan., enlisted in the army soon after graduating from De La Salle Academy. “I was in the last class to graduate from De La Salle, in 1971,” he recalled. “I joined the army on July 19, 1972.” De La Salle, run by the Christian Brothers, added military training to its curriculum in 1942, which continued until 1960. Even a decade later, there were many who still called the school De La Salle Military Academy. The high school, which had been at 16th and Paseo since 1912, closed in 1971.
“I served two years stateside,” Cade said. “Then I got this idea I wanted to go to Panama. When the orders arrived, I learned I wasn’t going to Panama. I was told the closest I’d get to Panama was Frankfort, Germany. I was bummed until I got there. Then all I could say was, ‘Wow!’”
He served in Germany until he was discharged. He returned to the Kansas City area, and went to work for the automobile industry. He was earning good money, had a girlfriend and a lot of buddies. Life was good until Nov. 18, 1998.
“That’s the day I was diagnosed with M.S. Multiple Sclerosis. Three months later I had lost everything, my job, my girlfriend and my house.”
He tried to stay connected. He lived in Atlanta with two of his sisters for about 8 years, but it didn’t work out. Then he came back to Kansas City and couch-surfed for several weeks, during which time the Social Security Disability office decided he wasn’t homeless, “which had me getting just a little over $500 a month. Try living on that, especially when taxes come due!”
He doesn’t allow his M.S. to incapacitate him. Someone asked me, ‘what are you going to do if it gets worse?’ I told him, ‘I can fall down or I can get up. I get up.’”
Cade finally sought shelter at Harbor House. Cade heard about St. Michael’s from his social worker at Harbor House. He applied for an apartment, and grew frustrated and worried when completion of Phase I of the Veterans Center was delayed a few weeks. It opened June 30.
“I moved in July 7,” he said.
And now he had brand new shiny cookware to begin cooking with. He pointed to the skillet with a grin. “The first thing I’m gonna cook in that skillet is a “ghetto burger!” You know what that is? It’s a burger with bell peppers, jalapenos, and onion mixed into the burger, with cheddar cheese on top. I’ll make home fries with the rest of the peppers, onions and jalapenos in the potatoes. I’m gonna cook a chicken dinner and chili, can’t wait!”
Getting serious again, Cade said, “None of us wanted to be homeless! We had jobs, homes, families, lives. But something happened to each of us. Me, I’m happy, no, I’m more than happy. I’m blessed!” And with that, Cade grabbed his cane, walked slowly but deliberately over to a St. Michael’s staffer and cajoled him into carrying the box of cookware up to the apartment. Following the man toward the elevator, Cade turned around and waved. “Stove and refrigerator, here I come!”
To donate home furnishings, bedding, and other items to the residents of St. Michael’s Veterans Center, or to make a cash donation, contact Eric Verzola, Director of Veterans Services (816) 221-4377 ext. 8210, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.