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Stories from the Road – Belfast Soup Kitchen

Good Shepherd Food Bank works in partnership with more than 500 hunger-relief programs throughout Maine, from Kittery to Fort Kent, to help get food to community members at risk of going hungry. Our network of partner agencies includes community food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, shelters, schools, healthcare facilities and youth programs. Today, we are sharing a story from one of our partners, Belfast Soup Kitchen, located in Belfast, Maine. This is the self-reflection of a real guest of the Belfast Soup Kitchen. Names have been changed to protect the identities of those represented.

Pine Cone Billy is a guest who has utilized the services of the Belfast Soup Kitchen for about ten years. A series of unfortunate events caused him to lose his home and his family. During his homelessness, he has slept outdoors, in his car when he had one, and stayed with friends when he could. Belfast Public Health Nurse, Susan Dupler, met him at the Belfast Soup Kitchen about four years ago. Aiding soup kitchen guests, Susan got to know Pine Cone Billy and earned his trust. She referred him to Jodie Stout, Belfast General Assistance Administrator. Over the last year, he has infrequently used the services of Belfast General Assistance. This September, however, something changed.

With support and encouragement from Belfast Soup Kitchen, Belfast Public Health, and Belfast General Assistance staff, Pine Cone Billy was ready to take a step to make significant changes to his circumstances. Since October 2020, Pine Cone Billy has maintained a comfortable residence in a small, one-room studio. With help from his supporters, he obtained some furniture, small wares, and personal items to equip his new home, and he has applied for SSI and SNAP benefits. Bridging Rental Assistance Program (BRAP) covers his rent with assistance from the City of Belfast until he can secure the benefits that will enable him to support himself. He continues to utilize the services of the Belfast Soup Kitchen daily. A true example of how Belfast Soup Kitchen helped to provide a guest with a safe community where they could find food, comfort, and hope for the future in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

Thoughts on Homelessness By: Pine Cone Billy

As a homeless person, I have been asked to express some thoughts and insights into some of the challenges I have faced during some difficult times. But first and foremost, I would like to offer to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, this motto: “Never give up, never succumb, never let go. Soldier on.”

“Soldier on,” my mother once told me long ago. In the face of adversity, in the face of difficulties and hardships; “Soldier on!” In that spirit, I have stepped boldly forward, unafraid to meet any challenge. To stand up to any adversary unafraid, to question even the heavens. Why so much pain? Why so much grief? So much turmoil in our world, where is the guiding light? I have prayed to God for help. Not only for me but for all of us, to help us step forward into a brighter and promising future. Prayed for help to guide us with renewed confidence as we progress into that future and pilot our way through ever-ongoing time. I do not believe my prayers have as yet reached the great cosmic deity, perhaps he is a few kilo or megaparsecs away. In any case, I really do not believe God is at fault for the world’s sorrows.

Certainly, mankind himself shoulders the responsibility of the so many tragedies of the past that can now unfortunately never be undone or unwritten. And we are certainly responsible for the fate of all of us in the future. And to that end, to those who would pursue worthy and worthwhile endeavors, I say “Soldier on.” I do not wish to sound overly dramatic but…many of my philosophies have been forged upon the anvil of pain, sadness, and sorrow. Forged with the hammer of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Forged in the fire of resentment and anger in the unquenchable flames of a burning rage!

I have been formed from experiences that have touched me personally and by tragic events in history that have touched us all. All of these combined as it turns out have at last transformed me into a man of inner strength and inner peace. My general underlying feelings, I must admit, are at least slightly tinged with a touch of sadness. Not to say I am not somewhat cheerful and optimistic; I do not allow spiritual pain or sadness to rise too close to the surface or allow them to affect my day-to-day comings and goings.

I take good care of myself and of course, get plenty of fresh air. I have a YMCA membership which I use frequently to play basketball, swim, lift weights, and study mixed martial arts. I have a library card and a bank account. I volunteer occasionally at the local radio station. I make a few dollars here and there, “and it seems just about enough” by moving furniture with my good friends and moving associates Bill & Bob. I do not drink alcohol. (A glass of champagne on New Year’s, ok. Fine once a year. A shot of brandy on a ski lift, great! But that is all). I will not tolerate tobacco and do not associate with people who do. I drink plenty of water and stay out of the hot sun. I seek the shade and gentle breezes in summer and warmth in the winter wherever I can find it.

As a homeless person far away from familiar surroundings, familiar faces, close friends, and family, my inner soul has faced some challenges. Though things are better now, I have endured some painful experiences. Separation from close family is the greatest and the chief cause of my heartaches and pain. I have stood at a crossroads and looked in every direction, none of which pointed toward home. I have stood in the center of a small town and knew what it was like to be on the outside looking in. I have felt my blood chill as the cold seeped into my body from the cold earth where I lay. But I never cried for myself and I always remembered my promise to my mom. I would never give up, I would never succumb, and I would “Soldier on” no matter what, and so it goes.

Of the elements, cold pouring rain is the worse, followed second by cold, howling incessant winds. I’ve heard them roar through the treetops with incredible sonic amplitude and felt enthralled by their mighty power, as I sheltered from them under every hat, coat, and the blanket I could muster as I repeated to myself, “I will survive…I will survive. “The winds tempered me, hardened me, made me strong. The rain never did me any good. In time I came to embrace the outdoors and improved and refined my techniques for what I call living. The cold winds cannot reach me now. I have become quite snug and comfortable in a quiet little corner of the country”. My nearest neighbor is a coyote that lulls me to sleep with his mournful cries. In the morning I am awakened not by an alarm clock but by the singing of birds. At night, my closest friends are the stars, comets, and planets that shine in radiant glory everlasting overhead. It is enough to make me feel sorry for those who must sleep in stuffy, little houses and not out in the clean fresh air. But then again, not everyone could survive out here. You have got to be tough. However, I must say, I am not foolish enough to stray too far from town where good friends and coffee await.

I suppose no matter what may happen, I could never truly be not homeless. My true home has long been lost to the years, although I may be comfortably settled here or there sometimes. After all, it would only be just perhaps a little wooden house, a haven from the wind and the rain. My real home exists on a different plane, in a different time, in a distant place that I call “long ago.” Sometimes I may cry just a little, in some poignant and far-off memory, of some particularly painful occurrence in my life. But not very often. You see I guess it is because I am saving all of my tears for one really big cry in the end. Soldier on.