THE SOUP GUY
Roger Boyd felt a calling. Since then, the Ancaster man has been spending at least 25 hours each week working to provide meals and clothing for people in need
IT’S RAIN. COLD AND POURING
Roger Boyd is making a massive pot of soup inside the kitchen at his home in Ancaster. The steam billows out from the top as he lifts the lid to show what’s cooking. For the last several hours he’s been making “Nona’s soup” — a type of minestrone — but it isn’t for him.
Boyd is on a mission to make a difference in the Hamilton street community. The back seat of his SUV is packed with new and used clothing. In the trunk are two types of sandwiches — cold cut and peanut butter and jelly — snacks, bottles of water and two large containers; one to hold a 60-litre pot of soup and another for a crockpot of fresh, hot pasta. He has a food thermometer he uses to constantly check the temperature of the soup. He’s going downtown Hamilton to feed people in need and he doesn’t care what it’s like outside.
“The homeless don’t get a day off,” he says. “I relate to these guys. They’re hurting.”
Boyd grew up in a large family that didn’t have much. He had always wanted to give back, and in a way he believed would honour his twin brother Robin, who died as an infant. “I’ve always wanted a soup kitchen” he says. But Boyd, a divorced parent of three children, put his idea on the back burner for years so he could focus on his family and his full-time job at Tarion as a warranty services representative.
A decade after his divorce, Boyd was attending a service at Flamborough Baptist Church when everything changed. That Sunday, September 4, 2016, the priest challenged the congregation; “Find your ministry by showing love.”
“I thought, how am I going to do that,” he says. “I decided I should start with myself.”
“Who wants a cup of hot soup? Come on over.” ROGER BOYD
AT WORK ON THE STREET DOWNTOWN
THAT AFTERNOON, Boyd cleared out his closet — shirts, pants, sweaters, coats — he put it all in his car and made his way downtown Hamilton.
“I just started talking to the guys on the street,” he says. “I asked if they needed clothes and they said ‘yes’ what have you got?”
“One man stood back and just watched what I was doing … He asked for a hug. I gave him a hug then two other guys asked for a hug,” he adds. “From that moment, I knew God and I started our ministry together.”
THAT DAY, “Men’s Street Ministry” was born.
“I was surprised,” he says. “I had no idea what it was like to be homeless. You don’t think about the things you take for granted like socks and underwear, you just think everyone has them.”
“These guys are amazing,” he adds. “Ninety-five per cent of them will only take what they need.”
Boyd works his full-time job during the day and makes his deliveries twice a week — Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings but will add a day if it’s really cold.
“Tarion is supportive of me,” he says. “But I do this after hours and all on my own time.”
He starts preparing the soup ingredients early morning and cooks when he gets home from work. On occasion, he has delivery “helpers” and volunteers who will drop-off fresh baked goods to his house. He devotes about 25 hours each week to the ministry which includes; cooking, washing and sorting clothes, updating social media, documenting donations and making deliveries. He also spends about $500 a month for food, gas and other expenses.
“My daughter is very supportive,” he says. “She’s come out with me and totally supports what I’m doing and one of my boys has helped to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
Months later, Boyd says he had no idea it would take off as quickly as it did. Initially, he reached out to family and friends for support with food and clothing. He bought a book to track donations. He launched the ministry’s Facebook page “Men’s Street Ministry” where he posts “thank you notes,” photos and videos of street people wearing their new clothes. Now in his fifth month, his basement and garage are brimming with containers and garbage bags full of clothes that people have donated.
“I’ll get home from work and there will be bags full of clothing on my door step, people giving me gift cards,” he says. “I felt very emotional … Excited too because I knew it was a great thing.”
He believes part of his success is a result of the videos he posts to the ministry’s Facebook page. Some of his videos have received hundreds of views. Many people offer words of encouragement and gratitude to Boyd for his work. It’s not without challenges though. While on the street he comes face to face with youth, teens and older men who are suffering.
“I see men with drug addiction … Alcoholism is a big issue,” he says. “Some have been injured at work and on assistance, some can’t afford to pay the high rental costs … They stay at shelters until they find affordable housing.”
He estimates 80 per cent of the men he encounters are dealing with some type of mental health condition or addiction.
“One guy could be fine one day and another he could be strung out. That’s a danger and a risk,” he says. “I feel sad and helpless.
“If I just show them a little kindness, a little love and support, maybe that’s what a good day looks like for them,” he adds.
One of the stops he makes is at the Salvation Army on York Boulevard. Almost instantly, a crowd forms around him. “Who wants a cup of hot soup,” he says with a smile to a group of about 20 men and women. “Come on over.”
They each wait patiently for a portion of “Nona’s soup.” They look tired, hungry and cold. Many are willing to share their thoughts about the man they call “the soup guy.”
“I met Roger at the Wesley Centre, he pulled up there one day,” says Sandy who has been without a home since May. “He made amazing pasta and sauce.”
“It’s really nice to see people helping others in need,” says Joe. “Whether they’re homeless or not, just give a hot meal and some clothes, it’s really nice.”
Carlos who is trying to get his life back on track says “it’s a good thing he’s doing. I look forward to seeing him. His soup is delicious.”
Next stop, Mission Services on James Street North.
“It’s not uncommon for us to see Roger stop by our campus and quickly be approached by a number of gentlemen,” says Shawn MacKeigan, assistant director of Men’s Services. “Although we don’t work with him directly, we certainly have heard from the men that do work with us, how much they appreciate what he does.”
His last stop: Good Shepherd Centre. While the organization is grateful for Boyd’s help, as a food service organization, they are “mindful” of the importance of safe food handling practices. “We are very appreciative of everyone who assists in our work of serving the poor and encourage the community to support these endeavours,” said Alan Whittle, Director of Community Relations and Planning. “It may be preferable to support the agencies who already provide hot meals (like the Salvation Army outreach van) through donations of time, food or money.”
Boyd has big goals for his “mission” with plans to register the charity and raise enough money to purchase a trailer. In 2018, he has decided to do a “sleep-out,” meaning he’ll spend a night on the street to raise money and awareness about homelessness.
“It’s very rewarding that the guys on the street appreciate what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s nice when they say ‘thank-you’ or give me a hug, it makes it all worthwhile.”
“I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do,” he adds. “This charity is my passion and my whole heart is in it all the way.”
“If I just show them a little kindness, a little love and support, maybe that’s what a good day looks like for them.”
Roger Boyd shows a homeless man a “street bed” made from woven plastic milk bags that provides padding and insulation from the ground.
Above, Roger Boyd hands a cup of soup to a man at Mission Services on James Street North, one of his regular stops. Right, Boyd estimates it takes him about 25 hours of prep each week for his twice-weekly trips. He is shown organizing some of the food donations he stores at his Ancaster home.