Sage Collins, left, a volunteer, wraps up bean and cheese tacos to be distributed with Spanish rice for dinner, while Meade Aronson, the chef, organizes hundreds of sandwiches made for lunch at Preble Street’s new space in South Portland. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Due to a drastic increase in the demand for food, the Preble Street facility will launch a new Food Security Hub moving away from the soup kitchen model. This is the first hub in Maine focused on food insecurity. The hub is set to open in early 2023. 

“The Food Security Hub is focused on ending food insecurity here in Maine,” said Danielle Smaha, communications director for Preble Street. “Preble Street has operated a soup kitchen as well as pantry services out of Portland since the early 1990s. With the pandemic, it was an inability to operate the soup kitchen due to the new regulations and the way we needed to operate. It became clear that we needed a new space, we have also dramatically increased the number of meals that we have been serving over the pandemic.

“In 2021, for the second year in a row, we provided more than one million meals to people in need. The Food Security Hub is just a way to grow our services so that we can provide more food to people who need it.” 

A typical day would include providing take-away meals for those who need it. There is a lot of food preparation and cooking that goes on to get the meals out and distributed. The meals are distributed to people through a street outreach collaborative and providing food for some of the hotels that are currently housing people. 

The new security hub model is sustainable and comprehensive, and collaborative approach dedicated to ending hunger in Maine. The new location when completed in 2023, will be a 30,00-square-foot mixed-use space which will function as an industrial kitchen, food processing center, education/vocational site, office space and a conference center dedicated to advocacy work and efforts to end hunger. The unprecedented impact of the pandemic led to an ongoing economic crisis.  

“It is going to be a mixed used space,” Smaha said. “We currently have an industrial kitchen in the facility right now and then over the course of next year until early 2023 we will be expanding it into a food processing center where we will be able to preserve the food that comes in through either freezing, blanching or other preservation methods. We also hope to have an education and vocational training site there, we will have office space and resources so that we can work with partners around our efforts to end hunger.” 

Preble Street operates a soup kitchen on Oxford Street in Portland. In its 28 years of operation before COVID-19’s arrival in Maine, the soup kitchen served meals to 300-400 people each day. When the COVID outbreak hit Maine the kitchen had to change their ways and develop a safe way to continue serving meals to those who needed their help.

The staff and volunteers turned the kitchen and dining areas into production space. They made boxed meals and trays to deliver local shelter and a team was formed to get food delivered to unhoused people. Preble Street Food Program operated at 252 Oxford St. in Portland since 1993 but was relocated to 75 Darling Ave. in South Portland mid-November. The Preble Street Food Pantry is now temporarily operating at 14 Portland St. in Portland. Before the pandemic, Preble Street served 65,000 meals each month at its soup kitchen on Oxford Street. It now distributes 100,000 meals a month. 

“The pandemic really increased the need for meals,” Smaha said. “We have been preparing more meals than ever before. We were previously operating as a soup kitchen out of Portland. With the pandemic you cannot have people coming in and sitting down and sharing a meal in a communal space anymore like the way they used to. The pandemic really led to this change in the operation model.” 

Preble Street received its initial funding for the project from several organizations and a significant amount of support from the John T. Gorman Foundation which donated $1 million dollars. Preble Street is looking to raise an additional $500,000.  Good Shepherd Food Bank has been a key partner in this effort. Good Shepherd distributes food to more than 500 community-based organizations. Hannaford Charitable Foundation has also provided financial support. Other partners would include The Locker Project and the Cumberland County Food Security Council.  

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