Feeding the Hungry Along the Shoreline

blue dark

get helpThe Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries is an interfaith service that provides food and fellowship to those in need and educates our community on hunger and poverty.

The first night I volJeaninnecookingunteered at the Essex Baptist meal site I was serving dinner with one hand, and holding my son on my hip with the other. The volunteers and guests, most of them older than me, wondered if I would keep coming back. They saw a divorced single mother of a two-year-old, just out of law school, working to build a fledgling legal practice. At the end of that first day, it wasn’t my life story that took my energy; I was completely exhausted by the heaviness I felt at seeing a glimpse into the lives of the many struggling guests. I continued to cook and serve monthly, with my son, Nicolas, on my hip, and later, by my side. That was eleven years ago.

Over the years, I have gotten to know the guests, and our nights at the meal site together are filled with friendly chatter and sometimes words of comfort. Being a meal site volunteer has been an eye-opening experience, and one that has had a significant impact on both me and my son.

Many nights Nicolas would help out by sweeping the floor after the meal was finished. He had a running joke with Reverend Crane about who would get to take home the table linens to wash them. Of course, when my son would “win”, I would end up doing the laundry! For many years Nicolas, when asked what he would like for his birthday or as a Christmas present, would never answer. If he did, he asked for something very little or inexpensive. When he turned 12, I asked him, “Why do you never ask for anything for your birthday? I never know what to tell people to get you.” I never expected the answer he gave me that day, after all my years of wondering. He never asked for birthday or Christmas gifts, he explained, because he had seen others, our neighbors and friends, who had so little, and he felt wrong asking for anything for himself.

When I was in junior high school, my parents divorced, and my mother supported three teenage girls by working three jobs while she attended college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Looking back, we probably could have been on food stamps. I sometimes wondered how my mother was able to put food on the table, but it was always there, even if it wasn’t a gourmet offering. Having experienced what we considerately refer to today as “food insecurity”, I certainly would never wish for anyone to experience those feelings of fear, adult or child.

Today, I love to cook. I’m a foodie, and I love to collaborate on creative ideas for the meal site dinners. Sometimes we cook “breakfast for dinner” with quiche, French toast and hash browns. No matter what the meal is, the most important part is the fellowship; and I enjoy my time with the guests.

This year I joined the Board of Directors at SSKP, in addition to serving at the meal site in Essex. Being on the SSKP Board has given me a deeper sense of purpose in the SSKP mission. On the Board, we discuss strategic planning to combat food insecurity; so no one in the communities we serve will go without the basic need of food.

God has always provided for me. I enjoy extending my hand in care to my neighbors to ensure they have food and a place at the table. I hope for many productive years on the SSKP Board.


On March 5th over 20 staff members from Jensen Communities jumped into the icy waves at the Water’s Edge, as a fundraiser for The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries, raising over $300 in donations. Thank you, Jensen Communities!

Pictured (l-r) Jensen Community Representatives Chris Etlinger and Marian Pixley, and Patty Dowling, SSKP Executive Director.

When I was a kid in San Marcos, Texas, I didn’t realize how much my family struggled to make ends meet. It wasn’t until I was a teenager, looking back, that I began to really understand.

JFoltzMy father, the Rev. James E. Folts, who later served as Bishop of West Texas, was an Episcopal priest, just as I am today. Growing up, our family lived in modest church-owned housing, along with my grandparents, who helped out while my parents were working. The main source of protein in the meals my grandmother cooked was venison. When we would pull in the driveway, it was my job to jump out of the car and open the garage door. It wasn’t unusual to be greeted by the sight of a deer, left hanging for us by a local hunter or rancher. My father became an adept butcher and I remember watching him break down the venison steaks and roasts to pack into the freezer. It took me years to realize what a blessing that gift of meat was to us. If those ranchers hadn’t kept us stocked in deer, we’d probably have been on food stamps.

I remember during school, my sister and I would get pulled from class and eat our lunch early. Then we’d work behind the cafeteria counter, helping prep and serve food to the other kids. At the time I didn’t think about why that was, but later I learned this was a program to provide us with free lunch in exchange for work.

On our family’s tight budget, there wasn’t much room for fresh produce. For years I thought I didn’t like vegetables, because the only kind we ate came out of a can. I hated the taste - I’d rather risk a spanking for not cleaning my plate than eat canned spinach.

After high school and college, I traveled to St. Bartholomew's Church in mid-town Manhattan, and for a year I worked there with volunteers to help the homeless, the hungry, the elderly and struggling families with young children. Quite a change from Texas, St. Bart’s was my first real experience with a ministry of providing emergency food, clothing and shelter.

Over the past 13 years serving as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex, I have been asked to join the SSKP Board several times. In 2016 the timing was right. Today I work with the rest of the Board, an entity that I liken to being the physician for SSKP - carefully examining and “taking the temperature” - making sure the agency is in good health.

If the Board is like a physician, then the volunteers, the guests, the pantries, and the soup kitchens are the heart. I wanted to connect more to that heart, so this year I’ve joined a meal site team at the Tuesday dinner at St. John’s, as well as volunteering once a month at the pantry in Old Lyme on Saturday mornings. At the pantry, I have been helping guests with their shopping carts as they leave and I enjoy helping them put their groceries in their cars. It kind of takes me back to the very first job I had as a teenager. Recently, I helped a mom who was struggling with several bags of food and two young kids. She asked me to watch over them as she brought her car around. As I helped her put the bags in the trunk, I was grateful for her trust in me, and for the overall feeling of family, community and caring that the pantry creates.

SSKP is one of the finest non-profits that I’ve ever been affiliated with - I have never seen one so professionally run. The bar is set very high - but together we always meet the need.
Why do you support SSKP? Every story of why we receive gifts of time, food and funds is unique. Recently Rev. Amy Hollis, our chair of the Board of Directors, shared her “Story of Why”:


“Having the vision to “see the need” has been with me since childhood.

My childhood church in Portland, Oregon was a host site of an interfaith program called Snowcap Community Charities, which is still there today. They collected food and clothing to distribute, as well as other help for people in need. I still remember the big Snowcap barrel right in the narthex when you walked into the church. Everyone would bring in cans or coats. Our pastor’s son used to say that he never knew if his coat would be hanging in his closet, because if his father saw a child who needed it, it would go into the barrel.

Once when I was helping out, my job was to put “Hunger Around the World” placemats on the table. I read about the tens of thousands of children who were dying of hunger worldwide, and I just couldn’t get over. I still can’t. The incomprehensible truth that this was happening left a sore spot in my heart that never left me, and it still makes me emotional. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to get involved. For me, seeing the numbers of how many were hurting, made the problem seem insurmountable. If I couldn’t solve it - how could I make a difference?

As an adult, when my family started attending The First Baptist Church in Essex, I became aware of SSKP. Shoreline Soup Kitchens is so integrated into their community. My very first connection was helping with the spring Postal Food Drive. Hundreds of pounds of food was brought to the church to be sorted and boxed up. Then my husband Scott and I started volunteering at the Monday meal site at Essex Baptist. For a while Scott was the Site Coordinator, too. Whenever a team needed help, we’d fill in. We also helped with the bread pick up at Colonial Market. After I was called to be the pastor at Winthrop Baptist Church, I became a member of the SSKP Board. I have a history of being involved, but I know there’s no one person that does it all.

Part of my passion is the awareness of the interconnectedness of everything. When ALICE is in need - I feel it. It hurts me if someone else is hurting. The more I do to help another person, the more I heal myself, and the more the world can heal. That connection we all have to each other is something not everyone recognizes, but the small things we do all have an effect, here and across the world.

SSKP is, for me, a beautiful expression of what we can accomplish when we work together. Because of all the volunteers, staff, and community support so many folks know where their next meal will come from. I am grateful for this organization that seeks to meet basic needs.”
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have generously supported The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries (SSKP) by donating food, as well as grant funding. In 2016, the Walmart Foundation’s grant of $25,000 was used to purchase fresh and non-perishable food, which was distributed weekly to residents in an 11-town region through SSKP’s five food pantries.

“The generous gifts of food and funds received from Walmart help assure that all our neighbors on the shoreline will know they can feed their families, even in times of economic struggle. With their grant of $25,000 last year, we were able to provide enough food for over 80,645 meals to those in need, and additional donated food was also greatly appreciated. Walmart’s long term commitment to our mission of providing food and fellowship makes a real difference in people’s lives on the shoreline, and we are grateful for their support,” said Patty Dowling, Executive Director of The Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries.

© 2024 Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries