BANGOR – Millinocket native Peter Kelleher lost his son, Travis, in a 2016 drug overdose in Bangor, and since then has been working to help those who live on the streets.
“It’s just my mission to help people,” Kelleher said Wednesday standing in the kitchen at the Hope House, a shelter for those with drug and alcohol issues. “As everybody, or most people know, I lost a son to opiates. I couldn’t save his life. I got that phone call I knew I was going to get.”
Kelleher started making soup for homeless people after his son’s death. The Massachusetts resident is now known as “The Soupman” and was in Maine handing out backpacks filled with basic items, and buying boots for those who live on the streets.
“It’s great. He came in on a day our lobby is packed full of people and passed out some needed warm clothes, gloves, toiletries, that type of stuff,” said Boyd Kronholm, Bangor Area Homeless Shelter executive director. “It’s really super that he comes all the way around — up the state and back down again — helping out the homeless.”
“It’s absolutely an extension of our mission,” he added later.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” is how Shaw House case manager Suzanne Flood reacted when Kelleher stopped his big red bus outside the teen shelter’s side door.
Danielle Webb, a Bangor area transient, was on the bus.
“I think he’s pretty great and I think what they’re doing in pretty awesome,” Webb said. “A lot of people could use it this year.”
Webb was one of four locals picked up by The Soupman for a trip to Walmart to get a new boots, her first new pair in around five years.
After leaving the shelter, the bus made its way to the Union Street Brick Church.
“That’s what it’s all about is working together as a team and helping each other,” said Laura Cole, general manager for The Storehouse inside the church that provides free clothing, household items and toiletries to anyone who needs them.
“This is just, like a said, another blessing for people in the community to come together and help support the ones who are the most vulnerable,” said Abagail Smith, the leading housing navigator and supervisor for the Hope House.
She described Kelleher as “like an angel, coming in a snowstorm.”
After visiting the Hope house, shelter, Brick Church and Shaw House, the group went to Walmart.
“We’ll probably buy 30 pairs of boots,” Kelleher said, holding a list with various sizes.
Another goal of The Soupman is to install a portable shower somewhere in Bangor.
“We take so much for granted,” he said. “Everybody should have a shower and put on clean socks.”
“I’m going to see that Bangor has a shower: That’s all there is to it,” Kelleher added later. “Bangor will pay for its shower with the support we get from Bangor.”
The Soupman has already raised around $10,000 towards the $50,000 cost for the portable shower.
Those interested in finding out more can go to the: Support the Soupman Facebook page.