Third graders at the Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School learned about the value of lending a hand to someone in need, and that even a seemingly small contribution can make a big difference.

As part of their service learning project, the students collected non-perishable food items to help those who are struggling with food insecurity in the community. Thursday, Dec. 19, Alex Allmayer-Beck with the Belfast Soup Kitchen came to the school to pick up the boxes that were filled with a variety of canned and dry goods, and also to talk to the students about different ways the nonprofit organization serves the community.

Allmayer-Beck told students in the third-grade classes of Page Dilts and Tish Manning that the local soup kitchen at Belfast Center is in its third year as an established nonprofit, and that the undertaking got its start with funding from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Belfast.

Allmaayer-Beck said while the nonprofit gets regular donations in all sizes — one woman sends in a check for $5 each month, while the soup kitchen just received a $1,000 donation from a woman in Florida who got help from the service a few years back — it is not small effort to keep the soup kitchen going.

"It costs about $6,200 a month," said Allmeyer-Beck.

The soup kitchen carried on for many years without nonprofit status and carried a bit of a stigma in town because he said some in the community believed it "catered to the riff-raff." Allmayer-Beck said all that started to change after the Belfast City Council voted to contribute $5,000 to the cause of keeping it open during a funding crunch a couple years back.

"It stopped when the city of Belfast voted to give us that money," he said. "They said, 'hey, these people are OK.'"

Allmeyer-Beck said the soup kitchen has been so much more to those it serves than a place to come share a hot meal with friends and neighbors. A nurse comes in regularly to check blood pressure for those who come by, and nutritional counseling is also available. For those who need assistance with obtaining a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), literacy volunteers stop in to offer their services.

"We're a community center in addition to a soup kitchen," he said.

And the help the soup kitchen provides goes well beyond the confines of the space at Belfast Center.

Allmayer-Beck spoke of one occasion about a year ago when he got a call from a Waldo County Sheriff's deputy, the call that inspired the start of the emergency food pantry.

"He was almost in tears," said Allmayer-Beck.

Allmeyer-Beck said the deputy called him and told him of an encounter he had just had with a woman in her eighties. She lived on a limited income, and she was surviving on cans of dog food.

"We put a food basket together and the deputy brought it out to her," said Allmayer-Beck. " …That same deputy still takes a food basket out to her once a week."

After Allmayer-Beck offered his presentation, it was clear the children got the message.

"Most people, if they have money, it's good to donate some of it," said one boy.

"I learned that just because you're not rich doesn't mean you can't help people," said a little girl.

Allmayer-Beck agreed.

"There's an awful lot of goodness out there," he said.