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A 60-year-old janitor has been quietly feeding thousands every week since the pandemic started

"People are suffering during the pandemic. There's no work, the rent is high, they might not have money to go to the store. This is just one meal. But it's something I can do."

A 60-year-old janitor has been quietly feeding thousands every week since the pandemic started
Image source: Getty Images

Ever since the pandemic hit America last year, Doramise Moreau's Friday evenings have been reserved for cooking. After finishing her day job as a school custodian, the 60-year-old heads to the Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church where she spends nearly 12 hours lovingly turning bulk-size bags of rice and beans and hundreds of chicken and turkey drumsticks into about 1500 meals. Boiling lemon peels, crushing garlic and onion, rubbing a spice blend on the meat, and cooking the dried beans that accompany the yellow rice, she stays on her feet deep into Saturday morning — pausing only briefly for a nap — to ensure that no one in her Little Haiti neighborhood is left hungry.

 



 

"People ask me, 'Why don't you go home and rest? Why don't you sleep?'" Moreau told The Washington Post. "But I don't need a lot of sleep. I would rather be here making food for the people. I ask every day for more strength to keep doing what I'm doing." She explained that she volunteered to buy groceries with church donations and prepare a feast once a week after when her pastor, Reginald Jean-Marie, mentioned his concerns about hunger in the community. "I told him, 'Don't worry, I can do this — I have the time,'" Moreau said. "When people are hungry, it is our responsibility to help. I know how hard it can be out there."

 



 

As a little girl in Haiti, Moreau often took food from her family's pantry to feed those who had less than her family did. "Sometimes when you're looking at people in their face, they don't need to ask you," she told The Associated Press. "You can see they need something." Despite facing her mother's wrath, Moreau revealed that she was never deterred. "I told her, 'You can whup me today, you can whup me tomorrow, but I'm going to continue to do it,'" she said. Moreau immigrated to the United States at the age of 19 in 1980 and lived with her brother in Miami until she fell in love and started a family of her own.

 



 

When the relationship failed and left her a single mother, she took up two hotel jobs to pay the bills and keep her four kids fed, Moreau said. "Sometimes I had to leave them home alone and put my 13-year-old son in charge," she recalled. "It was very hard, but we got through. To give my thanks to God for watching out for us, I am happy now to give back." Now, she borrows the church truck to buy groceries on Thursday and Friday and singlehandedly cooks into the wee hours of the night. While rice and beans are a mainstay, Moreau's fried chicken, roast turkey, baked fish, and fried plantains are quite popular with the over thousand people she feeds each week.

 



 

The meals are loaded into two delivery trucks and distributed on Saturday afternoons by volunteers who cruise slowly through the neighborhood in Little Haiti and hand them out to people as they come out of their apartments. "Sometimes I go with them to deliver the meals, and it's rewarding when you see how it helps," Moreau said. "For some people, this might be the only meal they get for a while." It doesn't matter where they come from, she said. "Americans, Spanish, Haitian, they come here," she said. "Even when I'm closing, they say, 'Please, can I have some,' and I give it to them because if they go home and have nothing it hurts my feelings."

 



 

"People are suffering during the pandemic. There's no work, the rent is high, they might not have money to go to the store. This is just one meal. But it's something I can do," she added. "I ask myself all the time how she does it," said Jean-Marie, the pastor. "Not once do I ever hear her complain. We have to beg Doramise to take a rest, but she keeps showing up, day after day. She gives everything she has." To make things easier for her, last month, community leaders presented Moreau with a new Toyota Corolla purchased through the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp.’s Wheels to Work program, which helps low-income residents. "Such a wonderful surprise — I usually took the bus before, so I am very thankful," said Moreau. 

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