BELFAST, Maine — The Belfast Soup Kitchen serves a hot meal five days a week to an average of 50 people who otherwise might go hungry.
But the facility is in danger of closing due to an acute cash shortage, say the volunteers and staff working to keep it open.
“This is a place where people go when they have no place to go. This is a place where people go when they have no food to eat,” wrote Alex Allmayer-Beck, chairman of the soup kitchen’s board of directors, in a request for funds that was sent recently to area churches. “There is something special about our facility that preserves their dignity.”
According to Allmayer-Beck and incoming Treasurer Jason Lundy, the soup kitchen’s rent in the red-and-white-striped Belfast Center comes to about $1,000 each month and its manager is paid about $1,200 each month. Altogether expenses total about $3,000 each month. This sum is a worry, because its income has shrunk greatly in recent months.
“The economy tanked, and our contributions dried up,” Lundy said Thursday at the soup kitchen.
Mary Edmunds of Searsmont, who stopped in for lunch Thursday, said she enjoyed her meal of ham, fruit, potato salad and vegetables and that she would take a bag of fresh peaches home. She sat at one of the long tables covered by a cheery plastic cloth, speaking with two companions.
“I think it’s nice,” Edmunds said of the Belfast Soup Kitchen. “Especially for people who ain’t got much. They can come at least for a good meal once a day in a family-type setting.”
The kitchen, originally called the Stone Soup Kitchen, was begun in 1990 by St. Francis of Assisi Church of Belfast. In 2000 the kitchen was moved to the Belfast Center, but continued to be funded through the generosity of church members until recently.
But when three area Catholic churches consolidated in December 2008 to become the parish of St. Brendan the Navigator, the soup kitchen seemed to lose some steam, Allmayer-Beck said.
“Because of this consolidation, we were without a full-time priest for a year,” he said, adding that a lot of members went to other churches. “I think that is probably the biggest hit we took financially.”
The recession didn’t help, he said, and the soup kitchen’s surplus money has plummeted from $20,000 a year and a half ago to just about nothing in July. Thanks to generous daily donations from Hannaford and area farms, the kitchen doesn’t need food — just money, the supporters said.
“My hope would be somebody who steps up big in the next two months,” Lundy said.
While contributions are down, the need for the soup kitchen isn’t, according to Allmayer-Beck.
“We have elderly. We have homeless. We have people who have lost their jobs and need to supplement their groceries,” he said. “If this place was not open, I’d hate to see what would happen. An awful lot of people would be hungry. And people in this country shouldn’t be hungry.”
Although St. Francis has a full-time priest again and Allmayer-Beck is hoping that contributions will rise, the board decided in July to form a non-profit corporation called the Belfast Soup Kitchen. It will no longer be tied to any one church and thus will be free to apply for government grants.
“This has been a community effort for a long time,” Lundy said. “Food is such a basic need. Feeding the hungry is a basic part. It cuts to the core of what the Christian life is all about.”
Tamarack Thomsen of Belfast said he thinks the soup kitchen is a great thing. Right now, he’s trying not to spend money on food while he looks for work and tries to receive food stamps.
“It’s been really helpful to have the soup kitchen,” he said.
Manager Barbara Horgan, who is paid to work 30 hours each week but often puts in 50, said she thinks one of the most important aspects of the soup kitchen is the camaraderie people find there.
“I think it’s more the communal aspect,” she said.
For more information, call Alex Allmayer-Beck at 338-3105. Donations to the Belfast Soup Kitchen may be sent to Gerald Whitcomb at 85 Birches Road, Waldo, ME 04915.