By Crystal Sands
During difficult times, feeding the hungry is one of the most important and noblest jobs, but the Belfast Soup Kitchen does that and more. More than a soup kitchen, this important resource in our state provides meals for approximately 410 adults and children a day, including dining room guests and meal deliveries.
In addition to these meals, the Belfast Soup Kitchen provides breads, bakery items and produce daily, and meat weekly, as well as a coffee and social hour each day, emergency food baskets and access to wrap around services available through community partners such as Belfast Public Health, City of Belfast General Assistance and Waldo Community Action Partners.
Cherie Merrill, executive director of the Belfast Soup Kitchen, is proud of all the resources and support they are able to offer. She emphasizes that this soup kitchen is more than just about providing good, healthy food, it is also about providing dignity and respect to those who are in need.
In June of 2020, the soup kitchen opened a new, larger facility in order to meet the needs of the community. In the three years prior to the opening of the larger building and dining area, the soup kitchen went from serving 14,000 meals per year to 21,000 meals per year, so the expansion was a wonderful opportunity for the organization to grow.
Merrill is excited about the new building. “We opened our dining room to guests just this week; this is the first time since the building was completed last June.” During the pandemic, the soup kitchen focused attention on delivering healthy meals, but the dining room experience is one Merrill wants to talk about.
“We offer coffee hour from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day. When they set up the building, it was cafeteria style, but we are doing full table service. We offer full, inside dining each day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Guests are seated and waited on by our volunteers. We have a couple of baristas and have a coffee corner for our guests.” Merrill emphasizes that she wants the whole dining experience to emphasize the dignity and respect of their guests.
In addition to the full-service dining area in the new building, the Belfast Soup Kitchen continues to offer curbside pick-up from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for those not comfortable dining in. They also offer meal delivery services for veterans and elderly shut-ins, which was started during the pandemic but will now be a continued service.
Additionally, the soup kitchen is working with RSU 71 to provide meals to school children, even during the summer. Merrill explains that she also wrote a grant “to provide families with a crockpot, recipe and healthy ingredients for families to cook together and eat together.” Merrill emphasizes the importance of good, healthy food and learning to cook and eat together as a family.
Although the pandemic may have been a strain on many, Merrill says it was a time of learning, growth and coming together for their organization and others in Waldo county. The Belfast Soup Kitchen started working with other organizations to expand services that have now become a permanent part of what they offer.
“Working with other organizations makes all of this possible,” Merrill said. “The pandemic was a good thing in Waldo county because of the way the community came together. A lot of people really stepped up to the plate.”
The Belfast Soup Kitchen works to provide fresh, local organic food from Daybreak Growers Alliance, Waldo County Bounty, Belfast Coop, Regional Re-Entry Center Garden, the Good Shepherd Food Bank and the Fresh Rescue Donation Program with Hannaford. Thanks to the pandemic, Merrill said she sees more collaboration with people coming together to solve issues instead of wasting resources and doing things independently.
And if readers are interested in getting involved and helping this important and growing organization, Merrill says there are many ways to help—from donating money or food to volunteering, even donating returnables. Visit the website at belfastsoupkitchen.org and click Volunteer or Donate.
See this Section as it appeared in print here