Soup’s On: The Budding Philanthropic Empire of Bridgewater’s Soupman

By Sam Tarr

March 2019 – There’s a donation jar on Peter Kelleher’s kitchen counter. There’s another one on a chest in the dining room just off the entrance to his Bridgewater home. The glass jars with the red metal frames are now out of commission. The first donations to “Support the Soupman” went in those modest receptacles.

Months ago, Kelleher sat in his pickup truck with Koji, his Australian shepherd. The clock ticked past 9 a.m.

All the excitement kept Kelleher tossing and turning the night before. The green Subaru he’d been waiting for was now ten minutes late and he began to worry. He looked at Koji.

“They got us,” he said.

When Kelleher, better known as “The Soupman,” got the call to meet at the bank to receive a $35,000 donation for his non-profit, he assumed it was a cruel joke. The caller assured him that it wasn’t.

As Kelleher was giving up hope that morning, the car pulled in. The Soupman was only $5,000 away from buying a portable shower for the homeless. All he needed was the generator before he could deploy it on the streets of Brockton, with the help of other non-profits.

“I made it very, very, plain,” Kelleher said. “I wanted no money, at the beginning. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was building a house.”

But a lot has changed since then.

He sits at a round wooden table stationed between the kitchen and the living room. Envelopes, postcards, and cat toys are scattered on all available surfaces. There’s a large black rolling suitcase busting at the seams, fully packed, near a pile of shoes at the side door. Kelleher’s eyes are pink and watery from sleep or lack thereof.

He has just returned from a trip to Maine, where he drove his signature red school bus packed with backpacks of toiletries and winter gear to give to the homeless.

What started as a modest act of charity has evolved into a growing philanthropic empire for The Soupman.

A small black dog laps water out of a giant stainless-steel dog bowl, one of the few clients Kelleher still takes from his old doggy day-care business. He’s concerned about misconceptions. He’s particularly concerned about the perception people may have about the increase in donations his organization is receiving.

“There’s an ass in every bar,” he said with a stern look, eyeglass propped up on his short tussled grey hair.

A deep personal tragedy led Kelleher to become The Soupman. Kelleher’s son, Travis, was heavy on his mind as he served soup to the homeless in Brockton for the first time, two years ago. Travis could have been among those gathered that day, just a year earlier.

Travis struggled with drug addiction for much of his adult life. He frequently lived on the streets, unsure when his next meal would be. The plight of the homeless is personal for Kelleher, who expresses regret at not being able to do more to help his son.

“We didn’t have the best relationship in the world,” Kelleher says, his voice cracking. He looks straight through the wall in front of him.

“He was kind, even when he was using. I loved him like any parent would love their children.” Kelleher points to a picture on the wall. It’s Travis, young, groomed, and clear-eyed, before the drugs took their toll.

Travis died of a drug overdose in 2016 at the age of 33.

“I banged my head around in my backyard,” Kelleher said. “I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to do something.”

 “So, I said ‘Fuck it, I’m going to make soup.’”

He stands up and shakes loose a cigarette. He opens the sliding door, the cold air rushing in as the small black dog runs out into the snow-covered deck. Koji emerges from the other room and chases after him. He labors as he walks, his short but heavy frame challenging his legs.

Kelleher leans against the doorframe with one arm, sucking the cigarette down and slides the door shut as the dogs wrestle in the snow.

Since that first day serving soup in Brockton, Kelleher’s operation has grown considerably. Last year the Bridgewater Rotary Club acknowledged him as one of their Citizens of the Year. After gaining media attention, locally and socially, Kelleher has put teams in place to manage marketing, legal, and other aspects of his growing non-profit.

“You have to run it like a business,” he said.

Koji paws at the door. He tips his chair on its back legs to slide it open.

Kelleher packs his bus with toiletries, boots, jackets, and gloves for various stops around New England, on top of serving soup. The bus, donated by Lucini Transportation of Bridgewater, is covered with the names of local companies, paying $1,000 a window.

His first portable shower is set to arrive in the coming days, and he has already started fundraising for the next.

“I’m going to have one in every major city in New England,” he said.

Putting those showers, costing at least $30,000 per unit, all over the area is a lofty goal, but is not the end of the Soupman’s ambitions.

“We’re coming out with a food line,” he said. “Look what Newman did with salad dressings.”

Kelleher says he was contacted by a senior official at Newman’s Own, the philanthropic food brand founded by Paul Newman, who helped with the initial paperwork. Kelleher envisions a wide variety of items from salad dressings, to pasta and meatballs, SOS meal kits, and of course his signature soup, for sale in supermarkets.

“It just grows and grows,” he said.  “People stepping up to the plate. We’re raising quite a bit of money.

“If you don’t ask for it you’re not going to get it. And if they don’t want to help, shame on them.”

Kelleher repeats that, at first, he didn’t want any financial contributions. It’s the third time he’s brought it up. He reaches for a crumpled pack of Camels on the table in front of him. He puts it back down when he sees that it’s empty and searches for another pack, opening the door again and lighting up as the dogs run out.

“I didn’t ask for this shit, but I couldn’t stop it. Why am I gonna stop it? We’re helping so many people.”

“I didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘hey, I’m gonna be the Soupman, I’m gonna make a lot of soup, I’m gonna sell soup, and I’m gonna get a bus. Those words didn’t come out of my mouth.”

“That pissed me off,” he said. “We wouldn’t be where we are if we don’t post this stuff.”

“It’s not about helping my cause. It’s about helping your fucking neighbors…”


He sits back down and begins to talk about another idea but decides to keep it to himself, for now.

He’s unapologetically crass and says his blunt nature helps him in his charitable pursuits whether it be securing donations or regulating the crowds that gather when the calls of “the Soupman is here!” ring out.

His acclaim has not come without some skepticism. He leans forward, gesturing with his hands when talking about a comment on his Facebook page. One user said he is only in it for the fame, and that his increased solicitation and social media presence is for personal gain.

“That pissed me off,” he said. “We wouldn’t be where we are if we don’t post this stuff.”

“It’s not about helping my cause. It’s about helping your fucking neighbors,” he said.

“Everybody’s got jackets and boots in their closets they’re not wearing. Keeping them there and not giving them to someone who can use them, you’re either a hoarder of you don’t give two shits.”

He talks about his son again, saying that it’s his memory that provides the passion and drives him to do what he does. He smokes another cigarette, his fourth in an hour.

“It’s the simplest fucking thing anybody can do is help people,” he said.

The Soupman’s organization will only get more complicated as his ambition expands with his bankroll. Kelleher and his five-person board of directors prepare for new challenges as they look to branch out into multiple projects.

The Soupman is careening forward on his mission to help those struggling like Travis once did. He has plans on comedy nights with “some big names,” a line of Newman-esque Soupman products in every grocery store, a portable shower in every city, and other ideas he’s not ready to divulge just yet.

He’s come a long way from a pot of soup and red donation jar. Kelleher has a full web operation, school bus, and a link on his site where corporate donors can gain “Diamond” status with a $10,000 donation.

And for anyone who looks at the thousands of dollars pouring into his organization or questions his motivations, he has one thing to say.

“If you don’t want to help, shut your mouth and get out of my way.”

For more information on The Soupman, visit
Image from official site, used with permission.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s