Was it her big hazel eyes? Was it his dapper moustache? When Pat Moulton and Jim Snodgrass are asked what attracted them to each other, they don’t cite these or any other winning feature. No, for her, “It was his real interest in helping.” For him, it was the thought that, “Here’s someone working full-time and then giving so much” to , the soup kitchen in Montclair, where the two met in 2006 and where they still avidly volunteer. This is their love story, and they’re sticking to it.
Actually, evolutionary psychologists also claim altruism has been attractive since the beginning of time. And here we are in the 21st century, with two bright-eyed 60-somethings originally smitten by each other’s selflessness.
It was 2004, when Pat, a registered nurse approaching retirement after a career in community health nursing, first rolled up her sleeves to help prepare the signature four-course lunch Toni’s serves to needy guests. Initially, she joined a group of about 30 volunteers, a pool that has grown to 300. Some have been volunteering since Toni's was established 30 years ago this spring. With her health and safety expertise, Pat was soon involved in helping establish best practices in the kitchen and in looking to offer guests, many of whom are homeless, recently unemployed, and challenged by mental and physical ailments, greater access to health and social services. As time went on, she brought in groups of nursing students to be educated in community health nursing.
Jim had already closed the book on a career in insurance brokerage and financial consulting when he walked through Toni’s doors a couple of years later. Soon, in addition to kitchen duties, he was involved in the financial management of the kitchen, as well as in helping to plan its renovation. And he established the computer room, procuring grants for the hardware, and even laying the floor with another volunteer, so that guests could have the email accounts and training in Internet literacy that's so essential for job-hunting today.
Jim and Pat’s paths had crossed in the kitchen, but it wasn’t until they found themselves working side by side at first fundraiser that things got interesting. The more they were paired in party preparations, the more admiring of each other they became. Both had been divorced for years and Jim had grown children. They found conversation easy and their common interests many. Sports, cooking, skiing, books.
Soon, everything became “a wonderful blur,” Jim recounts. “We got married [in December 2007] a year to the day after our first real date, which was at a Devils game.” Among the wedding well-wishers were many friends from the kitchen, including Frank, a loyal Toni’s Kitchen guest, who brought the happy couple a treasured gift: matching soft-pack beer coolers.
Once again, Pat and Jim are hard at work on a Toni’s Kitchen Fundraiser, this one to mark the kitchen’s 30th year. The event on March 3, at the Women’s Club of Upper Montclair, will feature Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News, Dr. Richard Besser, a resident of Montclair, and Carla Hill, “The Chew” TV show's co-host and noted Washington-based chef. “We are excited to be there—together,” Jim says.