Most communities are fortunate to have one place where people can get a free, hot meal.

The Waterville-Winslow area now has two.

A month after Stone Soup Cafe opened at the Winslow Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen on Monday will open The Lighthouse at 38 College Ave. in Waterville, right across the street from the U.S. Post Office.

“We as a group came up with the name and it’s because it is a beacon of light for our community,” said Carla Caron, president of the soup kitchen’s board of directors. “It’s a safe space in the storm, built on a rock.”

Carla Caron, president of the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen’s board of directors, stands Wednesday in the dining room of The Lighthouse at 38 College Ave. in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

On Wednesday, Caron was at the College Avenue site, which the soup kitchen leases from Areti LaCroix and was formerly the End Zone sports bar. Volunteers have been getting it ready for Monday’s 11 a.m. opening.

“We will begin serving at 11:20 a.m. and go until 12:30,” Caron said. “At first we’ll be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Within a month we’ll be serving six days a week. We just need to get our new volunteers trained and established, and we’re always looking for more.”

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For the last two years, Caron and the crew, including chef Chad Cookson, have been cooking meals at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Eustis Parkway and taking them to Veterans Park, Green Street Park, Head of Falls and The Concourse three days a week.

“We have served 5,467 meals as of April 16,” Caron said.

The patrons who receive meals know The Lighthouse will replace that mobile effort and some are anxious about going to the new space, Caron said, but she is sure they will acclimate and come to appreciate the social interaction.

“It may sound simple, but to be able to come in, sit down and have lunch with new and old friends is purpose,” she said.

This spring marks the first time since the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen on Pleasant Street closed two years ago that the communities of Waterville and Winslow have free, hot, sit-down meals. Some of the same people who volunteered for Sacred Heart also are on the board of the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, which supports itself through fundraising, grants, gifts and help from the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

Aline Poulin launched the effort, pitching in funds from her own pocket, and then got Caron involved. Caron said she has come to know the patrons.

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“I find so much joy in this,” she said. “I can see the value and the potential they have, if they only knew how valued they are.”

Caron, 54, is a retired office manager for a physician’s office and has worked in other health care settings. Her philosophy for helping those less fortunate is to not try to fix them, but to listen. Her faith in God is what drives her, she said.

“We have people who live in their car, people who can’t make ends meet, with the economy and groceries being so expensive. We’re just hoping to be able to fill that gap. We’re honored that they would allow us to help serve them in their time of need.”

As she spoke, volunteer Austin Segel was working on equipment in the new space. Dean Dolham was chopping green peppers in the kitchen while also stirring a pot of ground beef on the stove for the chili that would soon be served to patrons in city parks. An engineer who retired from Sappi a year ago, Dolham also built a stair ramp to transport canned goods up from the basement where they are stored.

“This space is absolutely perfect for us,” he said. “It’s close to our customers for the most part. It’s kind of a central location without being downtown.”

Monday’s opening day menu will include shepherd’s pie, tossed salad and homemade rolls, according to Caron, who hopes for a good turnout.

“We can serve up to 100,” she said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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