Peter Kelleher is hosting a “backpack night” to fill backpacks with toiletries and winter gear for the homeless Thursday, Feb. 7 in Middleboro. Volunteers are welcome.
BRIDGEWATER — Peter Kelleher needs help filling almost 2,000 backpacks for the homeless.
Known to many as “The Soupman,” Kelleher leads a collective effort to hand out backpacks – filled with toiletries, gloves, hats and warm socks – to those in need around Brockton.
On Monday, he’s bringing that effort up north to Maine.
Driving a bright red school bus, donated by Lucini Transportation of Bridgewater and converted into a mobile food pantry and closet with the help of other area businesses, Kelleher will make his way around Maine to distribute about 1,000 backpacks and raise funds.
The first stop is Biddeford, he said, followed by Portland, Augusta, Newport, Bangor and Lincoln. The trip will conclude in his hometown, Millinocket, after which he’ll head back home.
Bangor just may be the toughest spot for him – Kelleher’s son, Travis, died at age 33 in the city after overdosing in 2016.
Travis was the catalyst for his full-time dedication to help those suffering from addiction and homelessness, Kelleher has said.
The effort started off small – going around Brockton starting in 2017 to hand out soup to the homeless, which is how he acquired his moniker.
Since then, his impact on the community has exploded. He established his own nonprofit “Support the Soupman,” started handing out backpacks alongside soup, was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Rotary Club of the Bridgewaters, acquired and converted the donated school bus and is in the process of developing a for-profit soup line.
After a months-long effort, he reached a $50,000 fundraising goal in November to purchase a mobile shower unit to be stationed in Brockton, he said. The shower unit will be delivered and unveiled toward the end of the month. During his Maine trip, he plans to raise money for a second shower unit to be stationed in Bangor, for which he has already raised a little more than $8,500.
While in Maine, he hopes to not only raise awareness for his organization, but about the reality surrounding addiction and homelessness in general.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” he said. “I just want to help people. There’s no real reason someone should be out there (in the streets).”
Always looking ahead, Kelleher already has plans for more shower units (“The next shower will go into Manchester, N.H.,” he said.)
For now, he’s tasked with filling the backpacks for Maine. Kelleher has hosted “backpack nights,” as he dubs it, to gather volunteers to stuff the backpacks.
The one he’s hosting tonight in Middleboro, though, will be the biggest one yet, he said.
“We’ve been filling 100 here and 100 there,” he said. “But when we have a backpack night, it just gets more people involved. And there are a lot of backpacks to fill.”′
The event will be hosted at the Mitchell Memorial Club (29 Elm St.) in Middleboro from 7 to 9 p.m. Kelleher and his team of supporters expect a crowd of about 50 to 100 volunteers, he said. Those who want to get involved are welcome to just show up, or reach out ahead of time via their Facebook page (“Support the Soupman”) or their website supportthesoupman.org.
“We’re doing nothing but huge, big things,” he said, “and it’s just going to grow and grow and grow.”
Staff writer Corlyn Voorhees can be reached at email@example.com