Local Chef Uses Yoga to Feed the Homeless
Writer & Photographer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Ten years ago, Corey McDaniel was working as a restaurant cook in downtown Indianapolis. At the close of every night, the kitchen always had leftover food, but for insurance reasons, staff was not allowed to save any of it so it always got thrown into the trash bins out back.
One day, McDaniel noticed some homeless men crawling inside the dingy, smelly dumpsters in search of a meal. The image stuck with him.
“We tend to be naïve when it comes to certain circumstances,” says McDaniel, admitting that he wasn’t exactly rolling in cash himself. “I recognized that I, too, was two paychecks away from having to dig in the dumpster.”
Around that same time, McDaniel, a former Ball State football player, was suffering from chronic aches and pains. His shoulders were hurting, his hips were knotted up and his flexibility was nonexistent. After years of weight lifting, he had built tight, toned muscles, making him a picture of fitness to the outside world. But he was paying the price.
On a whim, he decided to try something new. He thought perhaps yoga would teach him how to stretch properly so he attended class at a studio in Broad Ripple, expecting it to be a breeze. He was in for a rude awakening.
“There was a 50-year-old lady there who could do things I couldn’t come close to doing, and it messed with my ego,” admits McDaniel, who left the class wowed, winded, sweaty and sore. But he was also hooked and fired up to dive into a new form of exercise that had the potential to heal his body and elevate his mood.
“My whole life I’d used sports as a way to relieve stress and release aggression, but as I got older, that strategy backfired, and after working out, I felt tenser and angrier,” McDaniel says. “I’d never before experienced such an intense mind-body connection.”
It didn’t take long for McDaniel to recognize the many benefits of yoga, including enhanced coordination and memory, improved posture and flexibility, better bone density and muscle strength, lowered blood pressure, boosted immunity and improved sleeping. The thing that McDaniel most appreciates, however, is the newfound awareness of self and surroundings.
“So often we walk through the world being self-consumed, and that’s partly because society divides us by religion, race, gender and economic status,” says McDaniel, who began teaching yoga two years ago at the LA Fitness in Avon. “But when you’re in a room doing yoga, it’s just people uniting with one common purpose — to elevate the mind, body and spirit.”
Early in 2016, McDaniel, father to 14-year-old Camryn, thought of a way to combine his two passions — introducing yoga to various demographics and also feeding the hungry. He began teaching a weekly yoga class at Juan Solomon Park, where he asks for a $10 donation from all participants. Class attendance varies from week to week, but usually about 15 people come — ranging in age from 3 to 65 years old.
He takes the donation money and buys ingredients to make vegan burritos. He and his girlfriend, Marilisse Johnson, then distribute the burritos to the homeless community every Sunday at the downtown Wheeler Mission where they typically feed between 60 to 80 people per week. Sometimes yoga class attendees also donate toiletries and bottles of water.
McDaniel also runs a herbal juice business where he makes nutrient-rich breakfast shakes for clients. In addition, he caters vegan meals for individuals and businesses who hire him. He also recently published a vegan wellness cookbook titled “The Opening of the Closed Mind”.
McDaniel hopes that more of the general public will open their hearts and minds to those who have fallen on hard times.
“People who are homeless just want somebody to listen to them,” McDaniel says. “They want to know that they haven’t been forgotten.”
McDaniel’s Saturday yoga class is held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the indoor atrium at Juan Solomon Park, located at 6100 Grandview Drive in Indianapolis.