AUGUSTA — Bread of Life Ministries on Tuesday cut the ribbon on a new administrative office next door to its soup kitchen, which continues to feed thousands of people every year.

The new office, located on the first floor at 159 Water St., is wheelchair-accessible, making it easier to meet with clients and connect them to the services they need, said John Richardson, Bread of Life’s executive director. The previous offices, located in converted apartments above the soup kitchen, could be entered only by a narrow set of stairs that Richardson said was a challenge even for the able-bodied.

“This is monumental because the folks now just walk through the door to get help,” Richardson told the roughly two dozen Bread of Life employees and friends who gathered for the ribbon cutting. “These people we serve have so many barriers to getting on their feet. This is one more that has gone away.”

The Bread of Life board decided a couple of years ago to buy the building next to the soup kitchen, formerly the home of Shelly Rose Photography Studio, to serve as its new executive offices.

Bread of Life has 22 full- and part-time employees, five of whom, including Richardson, will be based in the new offices.

The ministry paid $99,000 for the building, according to the city’s online assessing records. The sale was completed in April 2013.

Richardson said board members then went to work raising money to renovate the first floor. That search ended when one family offered to give $40,000, which covered almost the entire renovation costs.

“He wrote a check for the whole thing,” Richardson said. “He wants to remain anonymous, and we’ll respect that, but we can’t thank him enough.”

Richardson said help also came in from businesses and individuals across the region, including Gardiner-based A Partner in Technology and Monmouth contractor Rick Grant.

“The opening of these doors, to drop down that barrier, is totally connected to the community,” Richardson said.

The ribbon-cutting was scheduled for 11 a.m. so that it would coincide with the lunch being served next door in the soup kitchen. Many of those who arrived watched the ribbon-cutting as they ate.

“We wanted to do it at 11 so you could see what we’re about,” Richardson said. “Bread of Life is about service and serving those in need, but this is about community as well.”

The soup kitchen serves more than 35,000 meals a year, but the ministry also has two shelters that cater to homeless families and veterans. The shelters served nearly 700 people last year, Richardson said. Bread of Life also provides case management for the homeless and has 82 low-income apartments. The ministry also has outreach programs aimed at helping people struggling to pay for necessities, such as food and utilities.

Providing all those services means meeting with clients regularly, Richardson said. Those who were unable to climb the stairs to the former executive offices had to be scheduled for a visit in the soup kitchen when it was not serving meals.

“We had to be creative,” Richardson said.

While the first floor in the new building has been converted into offices, the upstairs has two apartments.

“That’s two more apartments for housing our clients,” Richardson said. “There are a lot of folks coming here to find housing.”

Kandyce Powell, chairwoman of the Bread of Life board, recalled Bread of Life’s former executive directors Dean Lechance and John Applin, who laid the foundation upon which the ministry has been built.

“No organization like this grows to the extent that this one has without a lot of pioneers,” Powell said. “There’s no end to the growth it can experience, given the leadership it has now.”

Carolyn Neighoff, who helped found Bread of Life in 1984, said the ministry was the result of people who wanted to live out their Christian faith.

“They were people who had a desire to listen to God’s word and follow it,” said Neighoff, who is now pastor of Water of Life Lutheran Church in Damariscotta. “We thought of every person we served as the face of Jesus.”

Seven families from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Augusta joined with Neighoff to buy the building to house the soup kitchen. People from the community gave $30,000 to get it up and running. Neighoff said the donations were “a miracle.”

“When I speak of Bread of Life, I always say Bread of Life was a miracle,” Neighoff said. “I guess it’s still going on.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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