By Kevin Coughlin
Caregivers are there in our hour of need. We count on them.
When one dies, it hurts a little more.
Everyone is hurting a lot right now at the Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center in Morristown.
Marla Drury, director of development and community outreach, died last week. She was 54. The news came as a shock to many.
“Just as you would expect from Marla, she didn’t want to complain and didn’t want anyone to worry about her, so she kept her battle with cancer over the past few months quiet and just tried to get through the treatment,” Terry Connolly, executive director of the soup kitchen, said in a message to the community.
If anyone ever was born for a job, it was Marla, according to those who knew her best.
“Feeding people was how she could live her faith. She quietly and courageously did things that made the world a better place. It was inspiring just to watch her,” said her pastor, the Rev. Edward Halldorson of the Presbyterian Church of Chatham Township.
Marla’s life will be celebrated there, at 240 Southern Blvd., at 11 am on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. The Chatham resident was a deacon and had been elected a church elder in January, just before her diagnosis.
People at the soup kitchen said Marla boosted fundraising and corporate giving, enabling the nonprofit to expand programs for the homeless and working poor.
Yet it wasn’t just what she did that impressed others; it was the way she did it.
“Marla’s warmth and generosity of spirit touched the lives of so many people,” Connolly said.
“She was loved dearly by all the staff, volunteers, supporters and guests of the Soup Kitchen. Her presence here made countless people feel loved, valued and important everyday. She is already missed terribly.”
Susan Hubbard met Marla at the soup kitchen years ago when they volunteered with their respective churches.
“She was a great cheerleader for the staff and the kitchen. She inspired us,” said Hubbard, who marveled at her friend’s energy and enthusiasm.
“Whenever there was some big overriding task, she was the one saying, ‘Come on, we’ll get this done!’ She was extremely competent, but never intimidating. People loved working with her. She was easy going, yet tremendously organized and efficient,” Hubbard said.
The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer is the soup kitchen’s landlord, and Rector Cynthia Black got to know Marla over the years. Though it sounds clichéd, Black said, Marla was ever compassionate, ever smiling.
“Anything she did, she put her heart and soul into it,” Black said. “It always showed up in her demeanor. She was always thoughtful and caring. She did everything with an attitude of kindness and generosity.”
‘MORE THAN A SAFETY NET’
Born in Milford, Del., Marla Dufendach Drury was educated at the University of Delaware and Dickinson Law School. She moved to Chatham Township in 1989.
Although trained as a lawyer and not a professional fundraiser, she asked to be considered when fellow volunteers told her the soup kitchen planned to hire a development director. Susan Hubbard served on the selection committee.
Another candidate had experience.
“But they didn’t have the passion for the soup kitchen that Marla had,” Hubbard recounted. “We were so right. She did a fabulous job. She leaves a big hole in our hearts, and in our staff.”
Marla helped create a strategic advisory board, bringing outside expertise to the operation.
“She really explained to people what our mission was. It wasn’t just like writing a check. She helped them share our vision,” Hubbard said.
The Community Soup Kitchen has served thousands of meals since its inception in 1984.
“We haven’t missed a day in 26 years,” Marla boasted to MorristownGreen.com in December 2010, when volunteers from Chatham and Parsippany braved a blizzard to keep the chow line going.
After joining the staff, Marla still joined the serving line with her church volunteers.
“The Soup Kitchen is more than a safety net – it is a large, close-knit family,” Marla wrote on MorristownGreen.com in 2012.
“Over the years, the number and diversity of guests has increased dramatically. Today the dining room still provides a safe haven for the homeless and mentally ill, but it is also filled with entire families, and the working poor each day,” she wrote.
To keep pace with this growing, evolving population, the soup kitchen added an outreach center that connects guests with services and resources.
“By empowering guests now, many will live more independently in the future,” Marla wrote.
Despite the swift progression of her illness, she kept working. Her last press release was dated Aug. 1.
Marla “fought hard and stayed optimistic,” Connolly said.
“She never, ever complained,” added Hubbard.
After learning of Marla’s death, grieving colleagues honored her the best way they could–by continuing the soup kitchen streak of unbroken service that Marla had proclaimed so proudly.
“Even in the face of extraordinary pain and loss,” the Rev. Black told her parish, “every single one of the staff did what they do best– they served those in need in our community, just as Marla did.”
Marla is survived by her husband David Drury; children Eric, Adam and Kate; parents Mark and Nera Dufendach; and brother Mark Dufendach Jr. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in Marla’s name be sent to:
The Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center, 36 South St., Morristown, NJ 07960; or online here.