LEWISTON — A soup kitchen in the city's biggest homeless shelter is nearing its fourth month of cold breakfasts and scant dinners.
Until May, Hope Haven Gospel Mission served a minimum of 40 dinners each day. They shut down to renovate their kitchen. Then, the renovation soured.
"We had technical difficulties," Executive Director John Robbins said. Installers discovered that donated equipment was incompatible with the Lincoln Street building's electrical system.
They had given their old appliances — including a commercial stove and pizza oven — to an out-of-town charity. And they don't have the money to make the needed fixes.
"We're just patiently waiting and we're trying to get by," Robbins said. "I was hoping to be operational by July 1st. That's come and gone and so has August 1st."
Now, fall seems a reasonable goal, he said.
The problems first popped up as a generous gift. St. Mary's Health System had some aging-but-working commercial kitchen equipment it no longer needed and offered it to the shelter.
"They were gracious in giving it all to us," Robbins said. "It was going to upgrade us to a legitimately commercial kitchen."
The equipment included a stand-alone convection oven, a range, an exhaust hood, a heater box for on-demand hot water, a deep fryer and a garbage disposal.
Hope Haven found another charity that wanted its old equipment. That organization brought a crane and hauled it away.
Only then, as an electrician came to begin installation, did the problem arise.
"You couldn't see it until you opened up the machines," Robbins said. The new equipment uses a three-phase, 480-volt electrical system. "Our building service is single-phase 220."
To adapt, each appliance and working element must be rewired. For example, each element on the stove is being rewired at a cost of about $650. Adapting and installing the exhaust hood would cost about $4,500. A new one would cost about $5,000.
Robbins said he doesn't know where all the money will come from.
"We're replacing the elements for the stove unit we're using," he said. "Until the electrical inspector comes back and OKs it all, we can't do anything."
Meanwhile, people are looking elsewhere for meals or going without.
Kim Wettlaufer, executive director of the Trinity Jubilee Center, said he had seen little change in the demand for food in recent months. His center serves noontime meals.
At night, the only other free meals available are at Calvary United Methodist Church on Wednesdays and at the Root Cellar on Thursdays.
Robbins said he is doing all he can.
At breakfast time, the people who spend the night in his shelter get a cold meal. There's little else.
"If we have something donated that we don't have to cook, we put that out in the evening for our clients," Robbins said.