Bread of Life Ministries was a natural solution to a painfully apparent need. The idea was sparked by one courageous visionary, fanned by hundreds of volunteers over a generation, and is now an essential institution nurtured by a generous community.
A soup kitchen, two homeless shelters, dozens of apartments, case management and a benevolence fund provide hope and helping hand to the less fortunate among us. While the organization continues to expand and reach for new horizons, we never lose site of our beginnings.
Carolyn Neighoff Meyer moved from Maryland to Augusta in 1970, the young wife of the new pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church on Eastern Avenue.
A year later, the 21-year-old Carolyn and a partner opened Cross and Crown, a Christian bookstore located downtown near the corner of Water Street and Bridge Street, a stone's throw from where the soup kitchen serves today.
As a warm and welcoming presence, Carolyn and her store became a destination for some local residents who might not have had anywhere else to go. Many were hungry, or at least not eating nutritionally, but she saw the greater affliction was loneliness and isolation.
"The soup kitchen was never about people starving on the streets of Augusta," she said, "It was about their souls and their emotions being starved. Nobody to talk to, nobody to relate to."
Carolyn began to discuss the growing need with other members of Prince of Peace, and she decided with their encouragement to look for a suitable building that would provide nourishment for both body and soul.
She soon found the building for sale at 157 Water Street. The location seemed ideal, but she needed to act quickly. After passionately sharing the opportunity at a church meeting, seven founding families stepped forward with $7,000 each to meet the $49,000 purchase price.
From the beginning, community members offered their gifts of time, money, expertise and material. Donations of kitchen equipment, tables and chairs, dried goods and elbow grease allowed the kitchen to open and serve 37 hungry souls on Sept. 10, 1984. It's been serving lunch Monday through Saturday in the same location ever since.
Carolyn soon turned her attention to expanding Bread of Life to include a shelter for those most in need. Efforts in 1985 to place a facility were painfully rebuffed by local residents, as an attitude of "not in my neighborhood" temporarily derailed the effort.
In 1986, however, Bread of Life opened its family shelter on Hospital Street. The veteran's shelter opened in an adjacent property in 2011.
The ministry that sprang from a Christian bookstore in the 1970s still embraces its original mission while dramatically expanding its services for the needy in the Capital region.
Carolyn went on to a career as an educator and is now a pastor at a church in Newcastle, Maine. She stepped out of an official role in about 2008, but still volunteers in the soup kitchen once a month and currently serves on the board of directors.
"God was behind it all," she said. "He crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's. For me that's really huge," Carolyn said. "Because God was with us we were not afraid to keep going even when it got ugly or people threw stones."