The Belfast Soup Kitchen has started construction on a new, permanent home at 29 Belmont Ave., across from Hammond Lumber, with an anticipated completion date of "just before Christmas."

"And what a gift it will be," said Mary Brand, president of the Belfast Soup Kitchen board of directors, at the groundbreaking event on Wednesday.

According to Brand, the board has partnered with the "dream team" of 2A Architects of Rockport, Gartley & Dorsky Engineering and Surveying of Camden, and Maine Coast Construction of Camden to design, develop and construct the multifaceted project.

The city of Belfast, Ransom Environmental Consulting of Portland and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have also been supportive, she said, in providing a remediation plan for the lot, which was deemed a brownfield site, with a large grant pledged from state EPA funding to support the implementation.

Brand said the cost of remediation is $210,000, and the grant will cover $175,000 of that amount, so the soup kitchen will have to come up with upwards of $25,000.

Purchase of the land at 29 Belmont Ave. was made possible by a large individual donation, Brand said, and individual and business contributions and grants enabled construction to begin.

The city also has been supportive in the planning and permitting process, she said, and Key Bank will be a partner in the final financing, providing a construction bridge loan.

The soup kitchen will conduct a capital fundraising campaign, with the aid of a consultant, to furnish the new home and retire the construction loan. In the future, Brand said she would like to establish an endowment, so the soup kitchen can become self-sustaining.

"We know that the support of our community will make it possible to raise the money to get us to our goal," she said.

The 3,400-square-foot custom-designed building will have a commercial kitchen, food storage facilities, serving area, and space to implement and expand the agency's mission to feed the hungry in Waldo County. Planned space will enable collaboration with other outreach agencies for programs such as health screenings, adult literacy and nutrition education.

The new building is designed with a high degree of energy efficiency in mind, with a variety of materials and features that ensure low maintenance for decades, and "great operational ergonomics." It will also ensure financial security for the soup kitchen with equity and low operating expenses.

Brand said the soup kitchen has a long history of service to the people of Belfast and surrounding communities. It started as an outreach program of St. Francis of Assisi Church, and remains almost completely a volunteer organization.

When the church could no longer fund its activities, its imminent closing prompted a group to form a board of directors and solicit community support for its continuation as an independent organization. Belfast Soup Kitchen was organized as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization in 2010.

The need, as evidenced by the numbers of guests and meals served, continued to grow, Brand said. The BSK is open five days a week, all year, and serves all who come from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for a coffee hour, followed by a nutritious hot lunch, including take-home bags of produce and baked goods.

In the last three years (2016 through 2018), the soup kitchen served 20,000 meals or more each year. This year, the trend has continued and the number of daily guests has increased from an average of 60 to a peak of more than 90. Brand said guests include the working poor, senior citizens, veterans, the unemployed, mentally and physically handicapped and a few homeless (those without other recourse).

The soup kitchen's daily operation is still dependent on dedicated volunteers and two paid staff for all of the cooking, cleaning, and food gathering, along with an essential partnership with Good Shepherd Food Bank as the source and coordinator of food materials. Brand said the board would like to establish a new executive director position, and is looking for someone with experience, because the "mission is expanding."

Currently the soup kitchen is operating from leased space at Renys Plaza, which accommodates the increased numbers of guests while the permanent home is constructed.

The decision, Brand said, to attempt the very challenging step of a new building is the evolution of searching for a new home over more than four years.

The soup kitchen's board was faced with a need for a home of sufficient size, properly zoned for the use, and in a location accessible by the guests. The cost of leased space has continued to rise rapidly in Belfast, and that cost is the major factor in operating expense.

The stock of suitable existing buildings was very limited, and would require costly renovation and installation of a commercial kitchen. There were no good ready solutions, Brand said. That led to the purchase of land and construction of a new building.

Mayor Samantha Paradis said she feels gratitude for the soup kitchen serving basic needs to the most vulnerable and also sees the facility as a "hub for folks to connect with resources."

"The building is a sign of dignity and respect," she said. "People can come and feel they are being seen and recognized. As a nurse, I see how food is the most basic form of medication."

To help with the capital campaign or the soup kitchen's ongoing operational fund, mail donations to: Belfast Soup Kitchen, P.O. Box 1153, Belfast, ME 04915. More information is available at