You can tell a lot about a city by what the citizens support. In Belfast there is support for parks, green spaces, a dog park, skate park, ice skating rink — and the Belfast Soup Kitchen.

In May 2010 the successor to St. Francis Soup Kitchen, the Belfast Soup Kitchen, was so low on funds that it was scheduled to close in October 2010. When the word got out that this would really happen, the generosity of this community was overwhelming — to the point that the soup kitchen’s board of directors saw this as a mandate of the people.

Individuals, businesses, churches, city government, the McLean Foundation, United Mid-Coast Charities, fraternal organizations, and others too numerous to mention. The Waldo County YMCA was a great help in getting our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Paul Gibbons, attorney from Camden, put in endless hours in getting our paperwork, state and federal, through on the first try.

So where are we today at the end of December 2011? The nightmare of having to close our doors is over because many of our supporters donate on a regular basis. We hear from people all the time saying that we are a “different kind of soup kitchen.”

What makes us so different is our mission, which we practice: the mission of the Belfast Soup Kitchen is to provide a safe community where our guests can find food, comfort and hope for the future in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

The first thing we did was to change the language. We have guests, not clients. We have a dining room with the hours posted along with the menu. The look was changed. Table cloths and a cheerful color scheme were selected. Sherwin Williams donated the paint and volunteers and staff did the painting. We were looking for a bistro atmosphere. Art from local artists adorns our walls.

Coffee cups for the use of our guests hang all around the serving window. We have a coffee club that gets together at 10 a.m. where people can socialize and enjoy the fine pastries donated to us by Hannafords and Chase’s Daily. This is open to everyone, and we encourage people to stop in and enjoy a good cup of coffee, pastries and conversation. Lunch is served at 11:30 a.m., and the same invitation applies.

The bistro look is well underway thanks to Andrews and Andrews Auctioneers, who gave us eight restaurant tables and the chairs to go with them. We also have a reservation desk which is used to put tick marks in a notebook on a daily basis so that we can have an accurate count of those we serve.

This data is helpful to us in finding a pattern of which days are popular, during which time of the month do we have the most guests, and which meals are the most popular. This data is also helpful when it comes to grant applications, and general questions from the public — the most frequently asked question being, “How many people do you feed a day?”

Besides feeding the hungry, the Belfast Soup Kitchen has created two jobs — which in turn raised our overhead because we now pay into workman’s compensation, liability insurance, directors insurance and all sorts of other fees. That, in turn, has made fundraising even more important.

Networking has been our most effective way of communicating with our supporters. Listing the agencies and organizations in this network would take pages. Suffice it to say that we are known outside of the state of Maine as well.

The media — newspapers, radio and TV — have been an immense help in communicating our needs. It is safe to say that, had it not been for the media, which did a fantastic job communicating our dilemma in August 2010, we would not have survived.

As for the future — we are slowly making progress making sure that we can continue to pay our bills. Eventually we would like to morph into a soup kitchen/food pantry/homeless shelter. There is a need. The Belfast Soup Kitchen is the only one in Waldo County. There is also no homeless shelter in the county.

In the meantime we will continue to provide quality meals and socialization opportunities. We are also looking for a volunteer nurse to come in every other week to do hypertension screening and health education, particularly for diabetes. A volunteer nutritionist would also be a huge asset.

As we go on, looking at the New Year, it is our hope that the citizens of Belfast and the surrounding communities see us as a valuable resource and will continue to offer advice, support and direction.

Alex Allmayer-Beck is the chief executive officer of the Belfast Soup Kitchen.