Bath soup kitchen again at crossroads as two-month hiatus begins

Posted June 30, 2013, at 2:02 p.m.

Amid yet another search for a new manager, the Bath Area Soup Kitchen served its last meal on Friday before a scheduled two-month hiatus.

It’s the second time in less than a year that the soup kitchen at the First Baptist Church on Washington Street has closed after losing a manager.

Officials at the Bath Area Food Bank, which operates the soup kitchen, a food pantry and a clothing exchange, said Friday that the board of directors has re-examined the manager’s position to make it more sustainable, and now seeks two co-managers to run the soup kitchen, which until Friday served lunch three days a week for 25 years.

Kimberly Gates, director of public relations for the food bank, said Friday that she’s determined the soup kitchen will reopen on Sept. 4.

“I just don’t know how,” she added.

It’s been a rocky year for the soup kitchen, which in November 2012 closed for six weeks after its longtime manager retired. Then, earlier this spring, two co-managers who had taken over the soup kitchen left, one to return to work full-time and the other due to health issues, according to Barry Compton, chairman of the board of directors of the food bank.

So board members from the 11 church coalition that runs the program opted to close the soup kitchen for two months rather than limp along without a manager and scarce volunteers during the summer months.

The decision was not easy, Gates said, but numbers decline during the summer and a variety of programs serving Bath and the surrounding communities are prepared to provide extra food until the soup kitchen reopens.

Undertaking a new search for a manager is frustrating, especially after the board already underwent a strategic planning process last November.

“We wanted to take a look at how things were going and wanted to [develop] a five-year plan and get everyone on the same page,” he said. “Since it’s such a large group, we wanted to make sure we’re all going in the same direction.”

Compton said the churches that operate the food bank are committed to it remaining faith-based, although the board is “evolving,” he said — most recently including its first member of the community — David Sinclair, who represents Ward 6 on the Bath City Council but who sits on the food bank board as a community member.

Board members continue to work on ways to make the position more manageable, Gates said, and closing for two months of the year is part of that effort. And the hours required of a manager — or co-managers — has been reduced to 16 to 18 hours a week, according to Gates.

Still, she added, “At the last food bank meeting we said, ‘We can’t keep a soup kitchen manager to save our lives. It’s a lot of work with no compensation.”

So far, no applicants have come forward.

But while the soup kitchen is closed this summer, Gates said food is available through a variety of programs. The food pantry is offering an extra box of food each month to the approximately 300 families it serves, Gates said.

A third box is available the last Tuesday of every month at the Bath mobile food truck at Grace Episcopal Church, and a fourth box is available at a Brunswick mobile food truck, which is next scheduled for July 11.

The Bath Area Food Bank is also working with Bath Parks and Recreation on a summer feeding program, bringing meals directly to kids at the local summer camps and the Bath Teen Center, otherwise known as the Bath Skatepark and Youth Meetinghouse.

Tuesday through Saturday nights, dinner is available to kids ages 2 to 18 at the teen center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. On Sundays, lunch is served at noon, and snacks are available midafternoon six days a week.

“The kids are already there!” Gates said of the program. “All you’ve got to do is be hungry.”

Bath Parks and Recreation also serves breakfast and lunch at the two town-run summer camps — last year 3,800 meals were served through the program, according to Karyn Garofoli, assistant director of Bath Parks and Recreation.

With the feeding program and extra boxes of food, Gates hopes to keep Bath-area residents fed until the soup kitchen reopens in September.

But until then, she said, “There is somewhere to eat seven days a week in Bath,” she said.

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