KENNEBUNK – Beth Jones got involved with Church Community Outreach Services, a volunteer organization that serves the needy in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel, because of her son.
“When Owen was in first grade, he had a ‘desk mate’ who kept asking him to share his snack. Owen came home and told me that his classmate was always hungry but that he was hungry, too, and wanted me to pack a bigger snack so he could share,” said Jones, 64. “So I started packing a bigger bag for Owen to take to school and share. Not long after that, Owen came home and told me that he believed his desk mate did not get any breakfast at home. He was very worried about his friend being hungry until lunch.”
When it became apparent that her son’s classmate wasn’t getting enough to eat at home, Jones and her son worked out a system so that the boy, who did receive free lunch from the school, would have something to eat as soon as he got to school, and snacks, as well.
“I packed two bags every day, one for Owen and one for his classmate. Everything went fine for months until the school had nutrition week,” said Jones. “Owen’s teacher decided to have a competition to see who had the most nutritious snacks. Owen’s desk mate won and the teacher said, ‘Your mother must love you very much to pack such wonderful snacks for you.’ To which he responded, ‘Not my mother –Owen’s mom.’”
The teacher felt badly that both boys had been embarrassed and called Jones in to find out more. She told Jones that the little boy had two brothers at the same school who were not getting the benefit of a thoughtful friend providing snacks. This spurred Jones to speak with the principal to find out how many children came to school hungry.
“I was astounded at the number (around 20). I came up with the idea of a snack program for our elementary schools and asked the food pantry, now the Church Community Outreach Services, to fund it,” said Jones. “The board of directors agreed to a trial period, but I would have to serve on the board. I agreed, joined the board and the snack program continues in the schools today.”
Church Community Outreach Services began as a food pantry and has since grown to include heating fuel assistance, a fresh produce pantry, and special needs programs, among others. The organization is staffed by volunteers from local churches and the communities it serves. Jones has been working with the organization for 22 years and has acted as co-chairwoman for almost as long.
Jones, a Maine native, lives in Kennebunk with her husband of 32 years, David. The couple has three adult children. Jones attended Northeastern University, did graduate work at Penn State and worked as a paralegal for several Portland firms before she met her husband.
After the birth of the couple’s first child, Jones became a stay-at-home mom. When her youngest was in fifth grade, she went back to work at her husband’s law firm, where she stayed until 2008. Throughout, she has been a volunteer at Church Community Outreach Service, working 25 to 50 hours a week depending on the need.
“I guess I do what I do because I believe it is the mission God has given me. As the daughter of a Baptist minister, I was taught that my Christian responsibility was to serve Christ through serving others, especially those in need,” said Jones. “I contribute to national and international organizations that help those in need, but in my own community it seemed right that I should go farther and be personally involved. I never really imagined that it would become a calling, but here I am still working for Church Community Outreach Service.”
Jones said she comes to know the stories and situations of the people she serves.
“I feel compelled to do what I can to help them get back on their feet,” she said
Jones said the organization has grown into something bigger than she would have thought at the beginning.
“We merged with the Holiday Food Baskets Program and expanded it. We have a summer free lunch program for kids who receive subsidized lunches during the school year. We are working with Think Local to develop a weekend backpack program to send enough food home with children to get through a weekend. Sometimes it is very overwhelming, but also so rewarding. We have around 150 dedicated volunteers. I have worked with such fine Christian people from many different churches and feel so blessed to know them all.”
Faith Gillman is a staff writer at Current Publishing.