BELFAST — A recurring series featuring artwork, music, poetry and the unveiling of “Frida” the ArtVan — a traveling art show, is planned for the Belfast Soup Kitchen, 31 Belmont Ave., Thursday, July 29, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Larraine Brown, director of Belfast Creative Coalition, which is now doing business as Activism in Maine, said the van has been in the works for a while with the idea of taking the arts to the people in the community. Volunteers who staff the van will also collect stories of how people in Waldo County are managing during the pandemic.

“We hope to go into neighborhoods with music playing,” she said, “kind of like the ice cream van, where people will come out, but for art instead of ice cream.”

The art van, Brown said, is a collective effort headed up by AIMe board member and artist Krista Odom. The van emulates a Pakistani taxi, Odom said, with all sides painted and elaborately bejeweled.

One side of the vehicle is reserved for children to create their own artwork. It will also bring tables and chairs, along with lots of art supplies for kids to use, she said.

During the worst of the pandemic, Brown said, the community became isolated and the van is one way to reach people in rural areas and in “nooks and crannies.” There will also be musicians, artists and maybe even puppets.

For the July 29 event, performers are expected to include Vic Tredwell, Ando Anderson, Jeff Densmore, Deb Hensle and Robert Payzant. Brown said two other art van events are planned at the soup kitchen in the coming months.  Events on Aug. 27 will feature fun with art and food, and on Sept. 29 a dance party.

Robyn Goff, program manager for Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center with Volunteers of America, said her agency partnered with AIMe after receiving a grant that focuses on helping people leaving prison to reenter their communities.

VOA has opened a new office at 3 Beaver St. in downtown Belfast offering case management, recovery coaches, and also an art program that addresses the opioid epidemic.

Goff said she was excited about the collaboration with AIMe because art programs are usually the first to go when budgets get pared. “It’s exciting to build art with the substance use and reentry population,” she said.

Cherie Merrill, executive director of Belfast Soup Kitchen, said she wanted to integrate local art into the facility to help reduce the stigma that is sometimes associated with the soup kitchen and increase a sense of community.

While looking for local artists to display their work. she approached Brown about getting artwork donated to the soup kitchen. Merrill said, “Larraine brought me Pat (Kaplan).” It is great to see how people have interacted with Kaplan’s poetry, Merrill said.

Kaplan started writing poetry after her husband died last year as a way to cope with her loss. She had the idea of sending her poems to friends and Facebook acquaintances from as far away as Japan, and asked them to create a piece of art evoked by her poem. She said the response has been amazing.

Kaplan’s “Treasure Trove Artistry” project, which celebrates the creative impulse as a universal language, will also be on display at the soup kitchen through September. It will then move to the Hutchinson Center from October through December.

“Once we opened the door,” she said, referring to her Treasure Trove Artistry program, “it has started spiraling” to include other partners and contributors. Right now it is poetry and art, Kaplan said, but it could shift to poetry and dance using humans as the conduit. Several poets have submitted their work as inspiration for other artists to create, for the next round of displays.

The new Belfast Soup Kitchen facility opened last June, but because of the pandemic, it has been distributing meals curbside. Inside dining began June 21, Merrill said, with the kitchen feeding an average of 150 people daily. “Last week we hit a record of 194,” she said.

The kitchen also delivers 100 meals to veterans and shut-ins twice a week, along with feeding 89 children once a week in the summer meals program. Considering all the meals, Merrill estimates the program serves around 500 people a day.

The effects of COVID-19, she said, will continue to be felt for some time.  Merrill would like to reach out to working families, who are particularly affected by the pandemic. “They need the greatest help,” she said.

Merrill has forged partnerships with Daybreak Growers Alliance, a farm cooperative based in Knox, and Waldo County Bounty, a hunger-relief campaign, to provide locally grown produce twice a week at the soup kitchen and for bulk food distribution. “People are into veggies,” she said, “especially organic, locally grown veggies.”

A pilot program providing 20 boxes of locally grown vegetables through Daybreak Growers was well3-received, Merrill said. She is currently working to continue and expand the program.

“It’s a full circle,” she said.  The vegetables are coming from Waldo County farms, which provides a market for growers, which in turn aids people in the community. Vegetables for the soup kitchen are also grown at the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center garden in Swanville and at the Maine State Prison garden in Warren.

The soup kitchen is not just about the food, she said. The facility also offers wrap-around services including job training and guidance to receive fuel assistance. Also, a representative from Waldo Community Action Partners is at the soup kitchen once a week providing resources along with the Belfast public health nurse.

Kaplan interjected, “A lot of good emerges in this building — this place is not for the marginalized, it is a place for everyone.”

Merrill said she wanted to acknowledge the 60 or so volunteers who make the Belfast Soup Kitchen run smoothly. She also gave credit to Lin Calista of Frame by Frame in Searsport for supporting the program by framing most of the artwork supplied and Penny Linn, who purchased art-hanging hardware so no holes had to be made in the walls of the new building.

One of the gifts in COVID-19 she said, is that people are recognizing the loss of their connection to each other — something she hopes to address with the ongoing art series.

For more information on services and hours at the Belfast Soup Kitchen, email info@belfastsoupkitchen.org or call 338-4845. For more information or to contribute to the Treasure Trove project, email Kaplan at treasuretroveartistry@gmail.com or call 617-633-9627. For more information on Frida the ArtVan, visit  artivisminmaine.org.

From left, Larraine Brown, director of Activism in Maine, poet Pat Kaplan, Cherie Merrill, executive director of Belfast Soup Kitchen, and AIM board member and artist Krista Odom pose in front of one of the pieces of artwork donated to The Belfast Soup Kitchen July 19. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

One side of Frida the ArtVan is reserved for kids to create their own art, shown here July 20. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

A collage by Jan Mercuri Grossman from Amherst, New Hampshire, is displayed at the Belfast Soup Kitchen. Grossman created the artwork after reading Pat Kaplan’s poem at right. Photo by Fran Gonzalez