Belfast Soup Kitchen seeks new home

By Hannah Holden | Jul 24, 2016
Courtesy of: Hannah Holden Belfast Soup Kitchen is currently housed in this building but its board is searching for a new location to meet higher demand.

As Belfast's job market has shifted in recent years, more people are relying on Belfast Soup Kitchen to help make ends meet — but the kitchen's current location cannot be expanded to meet the increased demand for its services.

“We have all these great new employers,” said Veronica Shaw, a member of the soup kitchen's board of directors. “We have the Front Street Shipyard, athenahealth, the bank. It’s really an economic boom going on but there’s all these people that are not a part of it.”

Last year, Belfast Soup Kitchen provided 14,000 meals, roughly 2,000 more than in 2014, and the nonprofit continues to see regular guests as well as new faces.

Bill Webb, Belfast Soup Kitchen board president, said the shift away from a manufacturing focus in the city has affected not only the job market, but also people in need of the services provided by the soup kitchen.

“We moved here in 1975 and Belfast was a very different place than it is now," Webb said. "It was primarily manufacturing. There’s been a distinct change, so it’s not unusual that we have the numbers that we do.”

With so many meals served and an increasing number of guests, Belfast Soup Kitchen is looking to expand its services as well as its home. The board of directors is searching for a building to purchase, or land to build on, with a minimum of 1,200 square feet of usable space that is pedestrian accessible with sufficient parking within a general purpose commercial zone.

“Space is an issue and we’re so limited here,” said Mary Brand, vice president of the board. “It looks like a bistro and it’s great but everything that could be done has been done here and now we need to branch out. We need a new home.”

The soup kitchen is currently renting a space in the “candy cane” building off Route 1. The search for a suitable location has lasted almost two years.

“Every stone at this point has been turned,” Brand said. “We looked at numerous places to rent and found that the rent in some places was going to double or triple. We spent six months negotiating with a local organization. We thought we were all set, but the negotiations ended rather abruptly and we were back to the search for a new Belfast Soup Kitchen home.”

But in spite of setbacks, the directors remain optimistic.

“We’ve learned what we need to put a commercial-grade kitchen together and what we need for the facility," Brand said. "So there’s a learning curve and it’s not a bad thing."

The soup kitchen's mission statement includes “hope for the future”; to help shape a more hopeful future, it offers collaborative programs in adult literacy, nutrition education, health screenings, food preparation and preservation, gardening, parenting education and family finance.

Said Webb, “We offer sociability. One of the things that I love to hear when I walk down that hall is noise. I come in and there are people enjoying and learning from each other."

Kathy Ferland, manager of the kitchen, said, “You can’t just give someone a meal and call it a day. We will help them learn how to eat nutritionally and teach them application writing and job skills. I think a new place will really help with the vision of providing our guests services beyond just feeding.”

Belfast Soup Kitchen is the only soup kitchen in Waldo County and traveling to Bangor or Rockland is almost impossible for many. The kitchen moved to its present location in 2009 and shortly thereafter received nonprofit status.

“I didn’t see it coming to this,” Brand said. “I’m thrilled that it has, but I also got concerned along the way that our success was going to be our demise because we were growing so big and didn’t have the place to go or the funding to make something happen.”

At present, the directors are considering buying land and constructing a building of their own design.

Donations for the Belfast Soup Kitchen can be sent to 9 Field St., No. 118, P.O. Box 1153 Belfast, ME 04915 or online through belfastsoupkitchen.com.

Belfast resident Hannah Holden recently graduated from University of Maine with a journalism degree. She is a member of the Belfast Soup Kitchen board of directors.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jul 28, 2016 11:15

The last sentence of the article says the directors are considering buying land and constructing a building.  I've been involved with non profits for 40 years.  It happens more often than not-instead of spending the time raising money for their mission, they will spend the time raising money to pay for the costs of their facility.  They would be better to partner up with another like minded group and keep the base line expenses to a minimum.



Posted by: Mary Bigelow | Jul 27, 2016 07:17

If they serve 5 days a week, it makes 54 guests per day. Functionally too many for a "home style" kitchen, maybe legally too. In commercial kitchens, I imagine there are gradations from moderate to massive

Really hope education and training can link people to some of the new opportunities in town



Posted by: Robin M Lewis | Jul 26, 2016 23:52

I agree that a more efficient and cleaner area would be a plus....I know the Veteran's are looking at building a new place.....I would think a combination would be awesome.......both need commercial kitchens and both feed those in need and Veterans love the interaction with others and vice versa. Win win solution......a well used building for the community benefit!!

 



Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jul 25, 2016 07:53

Not trying to be  a downer about this but 14k meals a year is less than 40 meals per day and hardly evidence of the need for a commercial kitchen and more expensive location.  I don't disagree that we should provide food for those in need. 



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