BRUNSWICK, Maine — You have to stand in line most days to get a seat in the dining room when the doors of Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program’s soup kitchen open at 11 a.m.
Sometimes, the 40-person dining room stays full throughout lunchtime and another line will form around noon.
But Tony Roy is there every day the driveway is clear enough for him to maneuver his wheelchair over from his nearby apartment. The food is good — some days it’s fantastic — the location is convenient and the price is right.
“With Social Security, we didn’t get no raise,” Roy said. “You have to stretch a buck.”
Roy, 76, waited in line on a recent mild March morning along with about a dozen others, including 70-year-old Malcolm Wood of Topsham. Wood eats lunch at the soup kitchen about three days per week, he said. He’s particularly fond of the salmon.
“The sweet and sour chicken is good, too,” Roy said.
Last year, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program served 47,669 meals in the 40-person dining room — up 47 percent from when the building opened in 2003. Visits to the food pantry have increased 80 percent in the last 13 years, to 8,626 in 2015.
“That says that there was somebody from each of those families in this building over 8,000 times last year,” Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program Executive Director Karen Parker said Tuesday.
The organization also collected, processed and distributed 720,000 pounds of donated food last year, 20 percent more than in 2014 and enough that excess food was stored in containers in the driveway and storage facilities in Topsham, one of the eight communities the program serves.
But because of individual donors and businesses, along with the Hannaford Charitable Trust and Jane’s Trust, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program has raised $425,000 of the $500,000 cost of an addition to the building that will add 2,424 much-needed square feet, largely to be used for accepting, inspecting, repackaging and distributing donated food.
On Wednesday morning, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the project, which will be followed in April by work on the expansion, Parker said. The event provided opportunity for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program to announce its remaining capital campaign to complete the balance of fundraising.
Mitchell, who brokered a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and negotiated other major global deals, has made fighting hunger one of his public priorities.
“Whatever one’s view of the world, of politics or otherwise, we all share a common humanity and, as Americans, a common pride in our society. A society which I believe cannot and will not leave anyone, especially children, hungry,” Mitchell said. “This program does meet a real need, and all of us have to do two things. We have to support this program and others like it around the state, and at the same time, we must work to change those aspects of our society that make it necessary for so many people to depend … on programs like this.”
The project is expected to take five to six months, after which Parker said board members will focus on expanding their program.
In recent years, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program has added programs including a monthly foodmobile in its parking lot — and two visits to Harpswell — a Backpack Program, which provides school children in the towns served by the organization with food to feed their family for the weekend; a summer food service program that provided 8,500 lunches last summer to students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch during the school year; and a Pantry to Pantry program in which volunteers delivery groceries twice per month to elderly or homebound clients in Brunswick and Topsham.
“We want to focus all our resources on looking at the communities we’re in and how do we get food closer to people who need it rather than putting the burden [of transportation] on them,” she said.