Caitlin Ray's preschool class learned a little bit about how some of their Belfast-area neighbors live on Thursday, Dec. 6, when they received a visit from Alex Beck, the volunteer executive director of the Belfast Soup Kitchen.

The class, run by Broadreach at the Capt. Albert W. Stevens School, collected more than 800 returnable bottles and cans, which they took to a redemption center, to present a donation of $40.25 to Beck for the charity. Teachers, students and families all participated in the fund-raising effort.

The soup kitchen is set up "like a restaurant," Beck told the class, with small tables, ceiling fans and ambient music. It serves about 1,800 people a month at a cost of around $4,500. There is a paid manager, and the rest of the staff are volunteers. Beck himself, a retired social worker, gives 40 hours a week running the operation.

He described some of the meals turned out by the three volunteers who are former chefs, including baked chicken, barbecued ribs and quiche. Anyone is welcome to come to the Soup Kitchen Bistro for coffee hour from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. five days a week, or for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., he said. Diners are "guests," said Beck, not "clients." In addition, the soup kitchen supplies the Game Loft, an after-school program for local youth, with food.

Beck said the soup kitchen has established ties with as many other local organizations, from churches to law enforcement, as possible, in order to reach out to people who need help. For example, if a sheriff's deputy were to learn of someone living in Knox who had no groceries and no money for food, Beck said, he would go down to the soup kitchen and make up a box of food for them. In fact, his organization delivers food to 12 families in the community each week.

"I don't care what day it is, I don't care what time it is, [if someone needs food] I want to hear about it," Beck said.