Dean Dolham, a volunteer with the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, browns hamburger last spring while making chili at The Lighthouse at 38 College Ave. in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — City councilors voted 4-2 on Wednesday to OK giving $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money to the Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, but made clear they must take another vote on the request and want to be assured the money will be used to help sustain the kitchen in the future.

Carla Caron, president of the soup kitchen’s board of directors, and Dean Dolham, who cooks at the kitchen and helps with financial accounting, spoke at length about why the money is needed.

Caron said the kitchen opens at 8 a.m., provides breakfast and lunch and stays open as a resource and warming center until 5 p.m. The kitchen opened two years ago with Caron at the helm.

Caron said social services agencies come in to help connect people with services and discuss community needs and how to meet those needs. In one month, three or four people were helped by Operation HOPE, a Waterville Police Department program that finds treatment centers for those addicted to opioids, she said.

Career, case management and medical services also are offered at the kitchen, which is on College Avenue, across from the U.S. Post Office.

“We aren’t just a soup kitchen,” Caron said. “It is so far evolved beyond what we ever thought it would be.”


The kitchen is raising funds, according to Caron, who said The 100 Club, which seeks to get 1,800 people donating $100 each, has garnered $30,000; an ongoing rental program has raised about $25,000; and money collected in jars placed at area businesses now totals about $2,000.

Caron said the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds would help hire someone to do grant writing to help sustain the soup kitchen. Expenses there are about $8,000 a month for food, and administrative costs total about $850.

Dolham said the kitchen serves 5,000 to 5,200 meals a month. On Wednesday, it served 304 meals and handed out leftovers. He said having the ARPA funding would help bridge the increase in need and costs until the soup kitchen can catch up with grant funding. Five grant applications are in the pipeline, he said.

City Councilor Rien Finch, D-Ward 6, said money given to the soup kitchen would essentially be unrestricted funds, yet ARPA money is supposed to be for specific purposes and plans. Finch said many social service organizations have applied for ARPA money, and the city must be equitable in distributing it.

“We really need a plan for council to do due diligence with these remaining funds,” Finch said, “instead of this first-come, first-served basis for handing out what are large chunks of one-time money that is never going to be replenished.”

Councilor Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, said the money was temporary funding released by the federal government to help people who were struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“So, right now, food may be it,” DeBrito said.

Council Chairwoman Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, said she agreed with Finch that the city must be fair, clear and transparent about what it is doing with the money, and the challenge for the council is to make tough choices.

“I also see the soup kitchen as a critical piece of responding to our homelessness crisis and, frankly, our drug epidemic,” Green said, “and what you’re doing is working and, personally, I think this is an exceptional organization.”

Having an experienced fundraiser on board to help sustain the soup kitchen is important, Green said, proposing that $25,000 be given to the kitchen to hire someone to help with grant writing and $25,000 be used for operating costs.

Councilor Tom McCormick, an unenrolled councilor representing Ward 7, said he was concerned that more people from outside Waterville will use the soup kitchen, so more meals and space will be needed and the city will pay for that.

Dolham responded by saying most people walk to take a bus to the soup kitchen and he does not anticipate a big increase in people from other communities.


Councilor Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, asked if the council needed more time to consider the request. Finch made a motion to table voting until March 19.

Meanwhile, resident Nancy Sanford said she thinks the soup kitchen is the best judge of how to use the money.

“And we’re talking about people who otherwise are sometimes, a lot of times, not part of a community,” Sanford said, “and the soup kitchen has obviously done that extremely well and brings services to many people. We’re talking about human beings which I believe are some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The motion to table the matter drew a 3-3 vote, with McCormick, Klepach and Finch voting in favor, and Green, DeBrito and Councilor Brandon Gilley, D-Ward 1, voting in opposition. Mayor Mike Morris broke the tie, prompting the City Council to consider taking a first vote to approve the funding request.

Green recommended taking a first vote, with an amendment that $25,000 be used as unrestricted funds and $25,000 be used to hire someone to help with fundraising and grant writing. She also made a plea to the community, including businesses and organizations, to help match the city’s funding.

“So, I’ll be calling you in the next couple of weeks to ask,” Green said.

She and DeBrito, Klepach and Gilley voted in favor of her motion to amend, while McCormick and Finch voted against the motion. The vote on the amended motion was the same.

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