Right before the holidays, we headed east to the coast, visiting the town of Belfast, Maine. Our mission for the day was to see Belfast Soup Kitchen’s new space. We arrived before 9:30 a.m., knowing that coffee and social hour for guests was going to start at 10 a.m. The parking lot was beginning to fill with familiar faces; waiting for the doors to open, they sat with newspapers and gathered with friends.
Walking in the doors of The Belfast Soup Kitchen is similar to visiting old friends or your dearest relatives; they greet each visitor with open arms, a smiling face, and an approach that is so welcoming you feel at home right away. Volunteers from different walks of life and their own stories for giving back to the community are there to help serve guests, help in the kitchen, pack food boxes, assist guests with pantry items or sit down and have a conversation.
We found the kitchen was busy with volunteers packing to-go boxes and had a familiar back-of-house restaurant vibe. On the menu, burgers with all the fixings, topped fresh with lettuce, a side of beets, and macaroni salad. Out in the main dining area, volunteers greeted guests with a warm hello and asked each of them what they would like to start with to drink; options included water, juice, tea, and coffee. Coffee hour is from 10-11 a.m., Monday through Friday. While guests mingled, played games, and warmed up, the pantry volunteers called guests up by number to get their items for the day. Volunteers are there to walk them through the pantry, selecting dry goods, produce and unique to this pantry, premade soups and chili, packed with directions on the bag, all that is needed is water and the meal is ready to go.
The open atmosphere is welcoming, and the sense of community radiates throughout the room. Guests from all walks of life are always welcome; The Belfast Soup Kitchen serves working families, unemployed, senior citizens, persons with intellectual or physical disabilities, veterans, food-insecure children, and the homeless.
Behind the atmosphere and charm is their friendly volunteer team. There is a task for anyone and everyone, from cooking, preparing food, helping others, cleaning, each volunteer adds to the place.
When asked what their favorite part about volunteering is, the team at The Belfast Soup Kitchen said:
“In an effort to reduce the stigma of food insecurity, we are working hard to instill a sense of community when people think about the Belfast Soup Kitchen. From volunteers, to guests, to outreach programs, we foster a cooperative spirit to fulfill our mission,” stated Executive Director, Cherie Merrill.
The mission has always been the same, to provide a safe community where guests can find food, comfort, and hope for the future in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. However, they recently moved to their new building in June of 2020. Before establishing the non-profit, for 20 years, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church supplied volunteers and supported food for Belfast neighbors in the area. St. Francis became part of several churches in 2009 and could no longer support the unestablished operation known as the soup kitchen. In 2010, the original board members formed the Belfast Soup Kitchen. From humble beginnings in the basement of a “Red & White” building, there was a surge in guests seeking food and comfort, and that need made it relevant to their board that a more suitable space was needed. In 2019, construction began at 31 Belmont Avenue in Belfast. Today, they are the only full-time operating soup kitchen in Waldo County.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen provides nutritious and delicious hot meals daily, but they also distribute bread, meat, dairy items, baked goods, shelf-stable pantry items, fresh produce, and through the Mainers Feeding Mainers program by Good Shepherd Food Bank, they work with Wild Miller Farm and True North Farm. With the assistance of over 100 dedicated and active volunteers, they’ve instituted a delivery program to provide seven days’ worth of meals and supplemental groceries to homebound veterans and elderly shut-ins across the county. They also collaborate with the local school district to provide seven days’ worth of breakfasts and lunches to children through the USDA Summer Food Service Program. New this year, with local partners, they piloted a weekly distribution of CSA-style Farm Boxes filled with local produce to working families in their community.
Additionally, The Belfast Soup Kitchen enables access to wrap-around services such as SNAP, WIC, fuel assistance, rent relief, health, and mental health services, housing assistance, transportation, emergency services, and nutrition information services through collaboration with several local agencies and organizations. Collaboration exists with services provided by Belfast Public Health, City of Belfast General assistance, Waldo Community Action Partners, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, SNAP-Ed, Maine WIC, Mid-Coast Transportation, food pantries across Waldo County, Good Shepherd Food Bank, and area law enforcement.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen is open Monday through Friday except for New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Emergency services are available as needed.
Hours of Operation
Coffee Hour – 10-11 a.m.
Curbside/Takeout Service – 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Dining Room – 11 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.
Good Shepherd Food Bank works in partnership with more than 500 hunger-relief organizations, located from Kittery to Fort Kent, to help distribute food to community members in need. Our network of partner agencies includes food pantries, meal sites, senior centers, school programs, and healthcare facilities.