BELFAST, Maine — On a weekday morning, the regulars are at the tables in the Belfast Soup Kitchen, sipping coffee, playing cribbage, and swapping the local news.
“I come here as often as I can. It's the best restaurant in town,” Mary, who travels to the soup kitchen from her home in Monroe, said.
Richard is a weekday regular from Belfast.
“It opens at 10 a.m., and that gives us plenty of time here. [It] fills part of our day, meet people we know, and keep abreast of what’s going on,” he said.
Food and companionship, it turns out, can do a lot. The Belfast Soup Kitchen provides both.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen provides meals five days a week at its kitchen and dining facility in Belfast.
Besides those served in the dining room, the kitchen also provides curb service, take-out meals, and even does home delivery in other parts of Waldo County.
If that weren't enough, there is also a food pantry for people to get additional food assistance.
All of this is free to those who need it. Grants and donations pay for the Belfast Soup Kitchen costs and programs.
And the work?
That is done by just three full-time staff members and a team of 132 volunteers.
Executive Director Cherie Merrill said they all see the increased need and are committed to helping.
“With the McCrum fire [in March] and some job loss in the area, and with the economy and things getting more expensive, people are struggling to make ends meet,” Merrill said.
The Belfast Soup Kitchen in April was typically providing more than 300 meals per day, Merrill said.
She, and the customers, also agreed the Belfast Soup Kitchen provides more than food. It also fills a social need.
“A lot of friendship, a lot of support from other people, trust,” Rob, a regular from Belmont, said.
Mary also said spending time at the Belfast Soup Kitchen meets multiple needs.
“I live alone, so it’s a social function for me. It's important to me to be social," Mary said.
Like so many other food pantries and similar programs in Maine, the Belfast Soup Kitchen is helped by the Good Shepherd Food Bank.
“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Merrill said.
Waldo County has a long history of local people helping each other.
Merrill said the county has 17 other food pantries. All of them benefit from a Good Shepherd grant to the Soup Kitchen, which has built a large cooler and freezer for all the programs to share. Merrill added it would help all of them preserve the food they get and help it to reach more people.