It all started with an observation. In 2011, some parents noticed that quite a few of the Dobbs Ferry students qualified for free or reduced-price school meals, and they wondered if these children were getting enough food to eat at home.
The parents were part of SPRING Community Partners, a nonprofit that provides resources so that all Dobbs Ferry children can reach their full potential, and they approached Rev. Joe Gilmore of South Presbyterian Church about starting a food pantry.
Years before, Molly Rodriguez had made her own observation: once her last name changed from Dawson to Rodriguez—her married name—she experienced racism for the first time in her life. “As Dawson, I could go anywhere and do anything,” says Molly, adding that her children were harassed with ethnic slurs, something that had never happened to Molly Dawson as a child.
When Gilmore spoke with congregants about starting a pantry, Molly, a bilingual social worker helping immigrants, jumped right in, along with Jen Cadenhead. They were later joined by Ellen Klein, Eileen Quinlan, and Mary Anne Griggs. The mission? To feed the hungry with dignity and respect for all.
“We started out buying 20 jars of this and that and putting them on a shelf,” says Molly. “We put signs around town and in Ardsley and Irvington, where pantries didn’t exist, saying that there was food available at the church. Food started disappearing off the shelf in a day.”
Produce was added and that first year the pantry was helping 30 families. Some residents were surprised that their town needed a pantry. Molly was amazed by the community support—people collected food and money at block parties and at churches and synagogues. Kids asked their friends to skip the birthday gifts and donate nonperishable food to the pantry.
As more people needed food, pantry volunteers linked up with Feeding Westchester, a food bank, to offer clients a variety of healthy foods. Today our pantry helps 100 families a week.
Every Wednesday morning, when the pantry opens, clients go to the sign-in table where Benny Rodriguez, Molly’s husband, welcomes them. He is one of the few volunteers who know their full names (the rest of us respect our clients’ privacy, and only call clients by their first name if they’ve shared it).
Our clients are our neighbors. We do not know how they wound up standing in line for food, how long they’ll need our help or what their hopes are—what do they dream of? We see them dote on their children, help older family members navigate the food line, and rush back to work, thanking us for being here.
Molly stepped down as pantry director in April 2021. As co-directors, Gretchen Skaggs and Vera Halpenny work to feed the hungry with the help of a devoted team.
South Church, which houses our pantry, is a generous supporter. Ardsley United Methodist Church, Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Temple Beth Shalom, Woodlands Community Temple, and Zion Episcopal Church have long donated to the pantry. Thanks to Sara Selletti’s diaper angels, and Michelle Peluso and her family for ongoing support. And to the many people who donate food, money or time, know that we couldn’t help our neighbors without your help.
Items Most Needed: Low-sugar cereal, diapers size 5 and 6, baby wipes, pull-ups, and menstrual products are always needed and can be left in the bin outside South Church, or you can donate money here.
Kimberly Janeway works the breakfast table and wrote this month’s newsletter.