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

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - KELLY NOSEWORTHY

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.

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