Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church Partners with Jim Dotson Foundation for Mobile Food Pantry

Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church in the Arlington area of Jacksonville is a Matthew 25 congregation in our presbytery that while small in number, is doing a tremendous amount of ministry supporting their neighbors to overcome poverty and find hope.

Their largest ministry is a partnership with the Jim Dotson Foundation whose mission is to provide food and clothing for those in need in the area (see more information about the foundation below).  The food distribution has operated out of Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church since 2018 when the foundation approached the session to house the food pantry. Food is provided to 600 to 900 recipients every two weeks (used to be once a month until COVID dramatically increased the need).

On food distribution Saturdays, the day begins early! It actually begins on Thursday night when the church fellowship hall is used to sort the food donations. By 6:30 Saturday morning, volunteers are setting up stations in the parking lot with different food groups (dairy, meat, breads / baked goods, fruits and vegetables, canned goods, etc.).  Recipients drive through the parking lot with volunteers loading the cars with food bags and boxes.  Volunteers from the foundation, the church, and the wider community provide support with picking up food donations, sorting, and distributing the food, clothes, and other items. Love and prayers are bountiful! By the end of the morning, all the food is distributed, and the fellowship hall is prepared for Sunday morning. The photos below are just a few of the many volunteers that joyfully serve on Saturday.

One of the stations distributes a hot breakfast prepared by the “Pancake Ladies” – members of the church and friends of the foundation – who joyfully prepare a hot breakfast of pancakes and other breakfast food. Prior to COVID the pancake breakfasts were served inside the fellowship hall, but CDC safety regulations put a stop to sit down meals. The pancake ladies adapted to distributing to-go breakfasts to the food recipients, so they are not only receiving food boxes with enough food for up to two weeks, but also alleviating early morning hunger.

Pastor David Imhoff reports that in the last few months, they have seen an increasing number of Ukrainian refugees that are in the area reaching out for support.  The refugees need food, clothing, baby formula and diapers, toys for the children, furniture, and other personal necessities. The Arlington area community organizations and churches have now established a warehouse to consolidate the donations received for this burgeoning refugee community.

Once a quarter, on non food distribution Saturdays, the church parking lot is used for the community’s police roll call.  Dotson Roll Call volunteers are at it again serving hot meals for the different shifts that come for roll call. It is an honor to give back to the local police community in this way.

The Jim Dotson Foundation was formally founded in 2018 in honor of Jim Dotson, a man who spent his whole life giving back to his community. Jim was an active leader as well as founder of the St. Matthews Food Pantry (St. Matthews was the distribution site prior to Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church). Thanks to the partnerships with many organizations in northeast Florida such as Farmshare, Feeding Northeast Florida, Second Harvest, Lutheran Social Services, Thrivent, Publix, Winn Dixie, and Panera Bread they have been able to continue their ministry to bring nutritional sustenance, both boxed and hearty meals, to those in need in our community. Jim Dotson Foundation Facebook page.

Ft. Caroline Presbyterian Church is a small congregation with a big heart. They have found new vitality and purpose in serving the needs of the community around them.  As Holly Dillon Inglis observed, their growing awareness of poverty in their immediate community is leading to explore ways to look beyond hunger to the root causes of poverty.  The spirit of Christ is at work through their ministry.

Thanks to Rev. David Imhoff and Beth Touchton