The fire started in the kitchen's truck, which was on the grounds of the Fall Mountain Friendly Meals Kitchen and the kitchen's food pantry, the Fall Mountain Food Shelf, according to Mary Lou Huffling, the kitchen's director.
The cause of the fire is suspicious, as kitchen volunteers had complained to police in recent weeks about gasoline being siphoned from the truck. State police said a person associated with the kitchen reported seeing a group of males walking away from the area about the time of the fire, and police are asking for the public's help in finding the men.
The fire destroyed the truck and then spread to the soup kitchen, causing thousands of dollars of damage to the kitchen's ceiling and walls, Huffling said,
The truck was parked on the lot at 4 p.m. Friday, she said. Firefighters managed to stop the fire from spreading beyond sections of the kitchen.
"We're lucky that none of our equipment was damaged, but the kitchen is unusable," Huffling said. "The truck is a total loss."
The soup kitchen has a temporary solution, thanks to the Masons of St. Paul's Lodge in the neighboring town of Langdon. The lodge is loaning its kitchen so it can continue to provide meals to 250 or so families in the Fall Mountain area.
The more pressing problem, though, is the loss of the truck, which was one of two vehicles used by the kitchen. The truck was donated in 2001 and has been used two or three times each week to pick up donated foods and supplies.
The kitchen serves 270 meals every Tuesday and Thursday through the Friendly Meals program. More than 200 of the meals are delivered all over the Fall Mountain areas and are essential to many elderly, disabled and shut-ins, said Cassandra Hollenbeck, a volunteer.
The kitchen's van was undamaged, "but the van can only carry the light stuff," Huffling said. "The truck was essential. We go through so much food, it can't be done with the van alone."
The kitchen is asking for help as soon as possible.
"Both of these organizations are solely funded with donations made by various towns, organizations, businesses and individuals.
"They are dedicated to providing food to every person who comes to their facilities," Hollenbeck said.
The kitchen and pantry volunteers are asking for "any company or individual that would like to donate a vehicle they are no longer using to the food shelf and kitchen," Hollenbeck said.
"Anyone willing to volunteer for the cleanup and repairs of the kitchen that are going to be needed before it can be used would be appreciated," she said.
Those wishing to help are asked to call Huffling at the kitchen's phone number, 835-2283.
Anyone with information about who may have started the fire is asked to can call Sgt. Shawn Skahan or trooper John Lucero of State Police Troop C at 358-3333.