The Belfast Soup Kitchen is applying for two grants to pay for equipment that will make it easier for Waldo County food pantries to store and distribute food, and help support the county garden.

The organization recently submitted an application for funds through Good Shepherd Food Bank's Capacity Building grant for $49,000 to place two refrigeration units, which will offer cold and freezer storage, at Waldo County Technical Center, Soup Kitchen Executive Director Cherie Merrill said. It received an anonymous $16,000 donation toward the $65,000 project.

The majority of Waldo County’s food cupboards are community-based and small, Merrill said. They have plenty of space for dry food, but lack sufficient access to cold storage. The refrigeration units would be available to all county food cupboards.

The Soup Kitchen is also applying for a federal Community Food Project grant for $400,000, which would be distributed over the course of four years, she said. It would help support the county garden maintained by inmates at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center and help distribute its produce to county food cupboards, as well as supporting Unity Barn Raisers’ Gleaning Initiative projects.

If approved for the funds, Merrill hopes to buy two refrigerated box trucks that will be available to county food cupboards to use for order pickups at Good Shepherd and to distribute fresh produce from the garden in the summer.

Currently most food cupboard orders are picked up by volunteers in their personal vehicles and county garden produce is transported to food cupboards in the back of someone's truck, but summer heat can take the freshness out of the vegetables while they are in transit, Merrill said.

District 2 County Commissioner Bill Shorey said the garden gives all of the produce grown on the 60-acre farm to local food cupboards and community suppers. It grew 173,000 pounds of vegetables last year.

“It’s a great project for Waldo County (for) people that have challenging times that they don’t have enough to buy fresh vegetables,” he said. “We don’t sell a single pound, we give away everything we raise.” He started the garden several years ago on just five acres of leased land, he said. He wanted to give inmates at the Reentry Center a chance to know what it feels like to give back to their community.

The county now owns 60 acres on Swan Lake Avenue that provide work for six to 12 inmates three days per week, Shorey said. The farm is likely to cap the amount of produce it can grow at 200,000 pounds.

Merrill said she wants to use the funds to make the garden sustainable so it can continue to serve people who are food-insecure in the county. “I’m just looking to support all of our food partners all across Waldo County — Waldo County Bounty, Daybreak Growers, all the individual food pantries,” she said.