AUGUSTA — When she was done, Alfreda Barrett sat down with a plate of plate of pasta, salad and bread. She scanned the room, taking in the few faces lingered at the tables around her.
And then she began to eat. After 30 years away from the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen, Barrett was back at home.
“Being here brings back a lot of friendships I made here,” Barrett said. “It’s a good meal, too.”
Barrett, 78, who ate at the soup kitchen almost daily during the 1980s during a difficult time in her life, spent part of Thursday morning handing out meals to the city’s hungry. The opportunity, and a $900 check Barrett presented to Bread of Life Ministries, was arranged through the Maine Health Care Association’s Live Your Dreams program. It helps nursing home and assisted living residents realize goals long since given up to age and infirmity.
“My dream, if I had all the money in the world, would have been to house the homeless and feed the hungry all over the world,” Barrett said. “They have made that dream come true.”
The seed for that dream was planted around the dinner table in Eastport, where Barrett was born and raised. When the children would complain about having to clean their plates, Barrett’s father would remind them there were hungry children in the world who would love to have the food they wanted to throw away.
“I’d say, ‘Why don’t you send this to them?’” Barrett recalled. “My mother would say, ‘Don’t talk to him like that.’”
That memory makes Barrett smile. It appears whenever she talks about her father, which is often. It was his death, she believes, that caused her the emotional and psychological problems that led her to seek assistance at the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen in the first place.
“I knew, being diabetic, I had to eat three meals a day,” she said. “I wasn’t interested or able to cook for myself.”
The soup kitchen not only provided a warm, healthy meal, it also gave her the companionship she craved. Those with whom she ate, and those who served the meals, became Barrett’s friends. Some became like part of her family.
“I lived alone with two kitty cats,” she said. “Of course I couldn’t hold conversations with them.”
The soup kitchen also provided the second half of Barrett’s dream: to house the homeless. Many who ate with Barrett nearly ever day jumped from couch to couch or slept under what is now called the Calumet Bridge at Old Fort Western.
Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find Barrett living at Arbor Terrace assisted living center in Gardiner. She has four adult children, two girls and two boys, five grandchildren and a great granddaughter who will, if Barrett has her way, experience enough happiness and love to satisfy at least a dozen children.
Barrett, who suffers from a variety of physical ailments, was asked recently to share her dream. She had no idea that the question, posed by the Live Your Dreams program, was in the running to be fulfilled.
“I didn’t know it was a contest,” Barrett said. “I thought it was a survey.”
Barrett said she wanted to raise money and volunteer to serve meals at Bread of Life’s Soup Kitchen. She wanted to give back to those who had helped her.
Nadine Grosso, vice president of Maine Health Care Association, said the Dreams program has filled a number of wishes since it was launched in 2009, but Barrett’s was a first. To make it happen, Modern Woodmen of America Junior Club in Farmingdale organized a read-a-thon. The 10 elementary-school aged children raised $450, which was matched by the national Modern Woodmen of America program.
“That exceeded anything we had thought,” Grosso said.
Barrett on Thursday presented the $900 check to Bread of Life Ministries.
“Food donations have been down nationwide the last couple of years,” said Dean Lachance, executive director of Bread of Life Ministries. “It’s great timing and a great gift by a really neat lady.”
Barrett would like to volunteer again at the soup kitchen but her balky ankles refuse to carry her where her spirit is so willing to go. If this was her last trip to the kitchen, she left on a high note.
“I expected to help and serve and give back to those who helped me,” she said. “This was my dream.”