For the past two years the Belfast Soup Kitchen has been searching for a new home, engaging in countless negotiations and multiple property visits, but to no avail. The hope is to keep the soup kitchen downtown, yet still have room for parking. But a larger home, with a commercial-grade kitchen, is the ultimate goal.

The need for the soup kitchen is great and it has outgrown its space, hindering the kitchen’s ability to meet its current and future goals to expand services and start new programs.

In 2015, 14,000 meals were served — a 17% increase over the prior year. 

“There are resources and food cupboards in Belfast, but if you want to go to another soup kitchen, you have to travel to Bangor or Rockland,” said Bill Webb, president of the Belfast Soup Kitchen Board of Directors. 

The kitchen currently is housed in the large red-and-white commercial building near downtown. As soon as the kitchen finds a larger home they hope to expand their services to include adult literacy, nutrition and parenting education, health screenings, food preservation, gardening and family finance.

“Storage space, space for our guests, adequate space, handicapped-accessible space. All of that is, in my mind, the main focus,” said Kathy Ferland, manager of the Belfast Soup Kitchen.

The kitchen is one of many soup kitchens in Maine that has seen an increase in people coming in hungry. According to the USDA, Maine ranks 12th in the nation for food insecurity and first in New England. But, Belfast is unique.  The small coastal town is booming with new businesses and large companies, such as Athena Health and Front Street Shipyard. But there’s still a large population that cannot afford food, health care and everyday needs. The transition from Belfast’s historic uses to the hip, summer tourist town has changed the city’s demographics and economy. 

“You need higher skill levels to be successful — more than you did 20 to 30 years ago,” said Paul Burtchell, a  Belfast Soup Kitchen board member. “The jobs have changed, the employers are much diferent, and it’s driving a new skill set. Some of the people haven’t been able to keep up with it.”

When a new home is found, the kitchen believes that the launch of its new programs will help the volunteers and staff better cater to the guests’ needs, such as helping fill out job applications or learning to read. 

As the search goes on, Belfast Soup Kitchen continues to appreciate the guests’ and volunteers’ patience as well as all donors’ and supporters’ willingness to help in the transition.

“All these new services will give our guests hope for the future,” said Mary Brand, vice president of the Belfast Soup Kitchen Board of Directors. “We urgently need to find a permanent home that meets our current needs and allows hope for our future vision. The Belfast Soup Kitchen requires substantial financial assistance to purchase a new facility, which will assist some of our most vulnerable local citizens.”

“The guests aren’t just coming here for a meal, they’re coming here to be part of the community, and they look forward to it,” said Ferland.

Donations for the Belfast Soup Kitchen can be sent to 9 Field Street #118, P.O. Box 1153, Belfast, ME 04915, or go to BelfastSoupKitchen.com.

Hannah Holden serves on Belfast Soup Kitchen’s Board of Directors.