My 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.