Elizabeth Leonard, right, talks to people who received items at a giveaway table set up May 5 at the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen in Waterville. Among those benefiting from the giveaway was Andrew Zelonis, bottom left. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

Elizabeth Leonard’s blue Toyota sedan was packed with boxes of toilet paper, city trash bags, cleaning supplies, dog and cat food, and other items to give away.

“We try to help as many people as we can,” she said. “It’s people who have to make a choice between buying toilet paper and getting their meds. You’ll see the desperation, and today is lasagna day, so it’ll be huge.”

It was just before 11 a.m. on a recent Friday and Leonard was doing what she normally does on that day — heading into the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen at 38 College Ave. to set up a giveaway table hosted by the Greater Waterville Area Poverty Action Coalition/Poor People’s Campaign.

She and Andrea Pasco, development director at the Kennebec County Community Action Program, started the giveaway table about a year ago in The Concourse parking lot in downtown Waterville, but when it got too cold late last year, they moved into the soup kitchen space. Bridgette Gemelli, community health navigator for Northern Light Inland Hospital, joined them and every Friday they come armed with fruit such as oranges, bananas and apples, diapers, razors, paper towels, socks and free monthly passes for KVCAP van transportation.

“It rained a lot this week, so I brought ponchos,” Gemelli said. “We decided to get longer socks because people said they were concerned about ticks.”

Those who come to the giveaway table live in tents at a nearby outdoor encampment, or at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, which is within walking distance, or in apartments. Soup kitchen volunteer Kerri Coderre, 40, became homeless in December and has been staying at the homeless shelter. She is working with a case manager on her goals, including obtaining a housing voucher so she can get an apartment, she said. The support and kindness she and others receive at the soup kitchen, as well as from those at the giveaway table, is huge, she said.


“It’s kind of like a second home for some people, and they come and get breakfast and lunch and take meals home,” Coderre said.

When Coderre was struggling after becoming homeless, Carla Caron, president of the soup kitchen’s board of directors, helped her.

“A lot of people that have problems, they go to her and talk to her,” Coderre said. “She has the biggest heart in the world.”

Leonard and Gemelli spoke with people as they crowded around to get free items. Leonard removed apples from plastic bags and placed them in large bowls as Gemelli emptied cases of bananas she had brought. They chatted with patrons who packed the items into bags and knapsacks to take home.

“To me, this is very important because it’s a struggle to get things like toilet paper, shampoo, razors,” said Andrew Zelonis, 49. “They welcome you with open arms. They’re very nice and friendly and help people who don’t have much.”

Zelonis has bipolar disorder and diabetes and gets Social Security disability income, he said. He was in the hospital before Christmas and since then has achieved a much-needed weight loss and become much healthier, he said.


As he spoke, the soup kitchen became busier as people strolled in and moved through a food line where volunteers served lasagna, salad, rolls and cupcakes. Coderre scurried around, helping to make sure people had what they needed, such as drinks.

Caron, the kitchen board president, said they serve 250 meals a day. The need is increasing all the time, she said. Funded by donations from businesses and individuals, as well as grants, the kitchen gets by but still needs more donations. Those interested may send them to the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 1494, Waterville, ME 04903, or through the website, watervilleareasoupkitchen.com.

Meanwhile, Leonard, a retired Colby College professor and author, spends a lot of her own money for giveaway items, and KVCAP and Northern Light Inland also donate to the effort. For the women, it’s a labor of love, and compassion.

“To me, this is just Band-Aids, and what I really hope for is that some day, we will be completely unnecessary,” Leonard said. “What we need is systemic change. In the meantime, I’m glad to apply Band-Aids while my community is bleeding out. I wish more people would get involved. All you have to do is do something.”

Those wanting to donate to the giveaway table may do so by emailing Leonard at edleonar@colby.edu or Pasco at andreap@kvcap.org.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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