By Adam Centamore.
In a small industrial park off Manley Street in West Bridgewater, something BIG just happened.
At first blush, it may not seem like much—a local Samaritan best known for his soup recently opened a storage and distribution facility. Look past the ribbon-cutting, however, and you will see the next evolutionary step of an amazing man on an amazing mission.
Peter Kelleher has been working to help local homeless people since 2016 when he lost his son Travis to the opioid epidemic. Wanting to contribute in a meaningful way, Kelleher began making and distributing homemade soup. Already loved for his efforts (and his soup), he quickly became known in the community as “the Soup Man,” a nickname that would come to represent all his efforts.
The scope of Kelleher’s work to ease the suffering of those on the streets quickly expanded beyond soup to include providing clothing, shoes, and bags filled with personal hygiene items. He personally handed out everything from his bright red used bus, the interior fitted with racks filled with anything someone enduring the winter season might need.
Kelleher’s work has resonated throughout the community-at-large resulting in a tremendous amount of support as the organization and its efforts continue to grow. To help facilitate his burgeoning operation, team members were added to address specific needs. While speaking with Rick Dumont, who handles public relations and videography tasks for the organization, it quickly became apparent that he fully believes in what Kelleher is doing.
“It’s people helping people,” Dumont asserts. “Peter’s message, and his mission, just sweeps you up. Heck, I was swept up by it three years ago.” What’s the message? “We are here to show people on the streets they are still respected and deserve the same as anyone else.”
One of the core beliefs of Support the Soupman is recognizing the humanity in everyone they meet. “We’re people helping people,” Dumont solemnly says. “They are just like most of us, one paycheck away from falling. We’re just trying to help.” Does their work have an impact? Undoubtedly. “Something as simple as giving gloves to someone in the winter can have an impact so great, it brings you to tears. They’re crying, you’re crying… it’s gold.”
Kelleher’s single red bus has grown into a fleet of eight vehicles. Four buses now distribute clothing and soup, and another three trucks have been fitted with mobile showers, giving people the ability to enjoy hot showers wherever they are.
Completing the set is a donated ambulance that is currently being modified and painted to be the permanent tow vehicle for their barbecue trailer, which offers hamburgers, hot dogs, and even steak and cheese subs. When I ask Dumont about the barbecue trailer, he chuckles a little. “Why not?” he laughs. “Why can’t homeless people enjoy steak and cheese like the rest of us?”
Kelleher estimates he still spends between $3,000 and $5,000 each week on supplies to hand out in addition to the incredible amount of support received from benefactors. “People are so happy to donate to our efforts,” Dumont says happily, “It’s the simplicity of the message. It really resonates with people. It’s beautiful to see.”
It’s not just private donations being made, either. Corporations are eager to contribute. One, in particular, has Dumont practically gushing with praise. “Ocean State Job Lot has been… well, just pick a positive adjective. They provide countless amounts of coats, boots, and pretty much anything else we need for the winter.”
The increase of resources allowed Support the Soupman to broaden their range and help more people. They currently serve homeless populations from Bangor, Maine to Warwick, Rhode Island. The rapid growth of territory and plans to grow even more quickly showed the need for a centralized, permanent building that would serve as the hub of the entire operation.
“We needed the space because we’ve grown so quickly over the past few years,” Dumont says. “We started in Pete’s garage, then moved to a small storefront in East Bridgewater. It wasn’t long at all before we realized the need for an even bigger space we could turn into what we needed.”
The new building stores all clothing, footwear, and food donations. A small kitchen was built so Kelleher can continue making his soups. There is also freezer storage for barbecue and other foodstuffs. This facility serves as the main drop-off for donations as well. There is no storefront or retail here, however. “You don’t get a whole lot of foot traffic in an industrial park,” Dumont reasons.
Support the Soupman currently has six permanent staff members, but the volunteer corps in action is nearly uncountable. “It’s an army,” Dumont affirms. “So many people want to help. They want to be a part of the mission.” From individuals to the Girl Scouts, that army comprises people of all ages and backgrounds. “Anyone can contribute,” he assures me. “Everyone can be a part of what we’re doing.”
Volunteer tasks range from helping with delivery logistics and inventory management to simply writing positive messages on paper bags that will contain personal hygiene kits to be handed out. For those interested in volunteering, Dumont suggests visiting their website for the details.
What does the Soupman’s future look like? “Well,” Dumont slowly drawls, “Peter has a lot of dreams. Some of them are top secret. Down the road, we hope to be doing a lot more.”
We should stay tuned then, right? “Oh yeah,” he says without hesitation. “We’re just getting started.”
Support the Soupman
1 Bert Drive, Unit 6
West Bridgewater MA 02379
Adam Centamore is a culinary educator, writer, and author of Tasting Wine & Cheese – An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing. When he’s not eating, drinking, or talking, he’s trying to figure out how to grow tomatoes.