Up Close and Personal with Katie Jo Suddaby

Role at ROC SALT: Operations Director of the South Wedge Food Program.

Birthplace: Baldwinsville, NY

The South Wedge Food Program has a history spanning 40 years and with the aid of dedicated volunteers, you are the helm. What life experiences do you bring to the ministry?

The food program is needed more than ever in the South Wedge.  The neighborhood has attracted the eyes of many developers in the area who are responding to a buzz of new residents willing to pay higher prices to live in the South Wedge.

Rochester ranks high in American cities facing high poverty rates. What are some particulars about poverty in this city?

Poverty in Rochester can be hidden. Rochester neighborhoods and nearby suburbs of Monroe County are divided by income and demographics. It can be easy to live life in Rochester and be disconnected and unaware. This can apply to many other cities throughout our nation. Nationwide, Rochester ranks in the top five of cities where child poverty is experienced.

What are some experiences that you had in your childhood and formative years?

I came from of family that was engaged in service, both of my parents were in helping professions in which they chose to live and work connected to people of different social strata.

I went to college at Roberts Wesleyan and began a grass roots food ministry with peers called “In Jesus Name”.  We would cook large meals and serve them right in heart of Downtown Rochester at the Liberty Pole, right near the central Transit Hub.  We would serve them to all…no questions asked. This was done several days a week and sometimes competed with my coursework.

You are an artist that creates mandalas. Tell me about their history?

Sand mandalas have been created by the Tibetan Buddhists for hundreds of years. The West didn’t know about them until the Chinese Communist seizure of Tibet when many of the monks had to go into exile. Many were killed by the Chinese and their paintings, sculptures, scriptures, and way of life were ruined. The Dali Lama was afraid that the art form would be lost so he allowed the monks in exile to make sand mandalas (and other forms of Buddhist art) for the public. The mandalas are still as meditative as when they were done solely in monasteries.

Being that mandalas are an ancient Eastern practice routed in faith traditions of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, how do working on them inform your path as a practicing Christian whose heritage/culture is not from that part of the world? What drew you to them?

I try hard not to participate in cultural appropriation. That’s why I always make my own designs and don’t use the monk’s sacred geometry. They have given me permission and blessing to do their art form as long as I “keep my motives pure.” The most similar form of art in Christianity is Icon Writing. Practitioners have to study the designs and symbolism with great care and the process of painting one is called “writing” because it’s seen as visual scripture. Sand mandalas are seen in much the same way.

You refer to yourself “The Wearer of Many Hats”?

I work on the Community Learning Lab- curating grass-roots knowledge and connecting local experts via technology and shared intellectual resources. I volunteer in the effort to eliminate period poverty (the lack of feminine hygiene supplies among the poor). I speak at churches and festivals. I say yes to way too many things 🙂

When you are not wearing many hats, what else do you enjoy doing? 

Salsa dancing! Walking my dog, Bernie. Watching Star Trek.

What was the last book or article you read that was informative for you and why?

Ebo Patel’s Acts of Faith was life-changing for me. Pluralism is the concept explored in his book.   The idea that religious pluralism is a good thing, that we aren’t all “basically the same” but that our religious differences can inspire each other.

What is your favorite place to visit in the South Wedge and why?

Harry G’s for their gluten-free bread selection.

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