Every day, his team delivers 600 hot and nutritious meals
Every weekday at lunch time, a white van pulls up in a nondescript parking lot in south Dallas.
People expect it. The van – called the SoupMobile – has never missed a single lunch in 11 years. And it makes quite an entrance, with the Rocky theme song blaring from the speakers.
“There’s a method to the madness with the song,” says David and Timothy, founder of SoupMobile.
“It’s a story of hope about someone who’s down and out, and who literally rose to the top. Our message is that you, too, may be down and out, but with hard work and perseverance, you can also rise up out of that.”
SoupMobile’s mission is to reach out to the homeless and feed them. Since 2003, Timothy and his band of volunteers have served 600 meals a day to those who are hungry. That adds up to about 1.7 million plates of hot, nutritious food. And counting.
“It’s way beyond, ‘Here’s a bowl of soup,’ ” says Timothy, who is known around town as the SoupMan. “We consider the homeless to be our friends and family.”
Before he became SoupMan, Timothy, 66, was living a more conventional lifestyle as a pension consultant.
“I think most people would have said I was a decent person,” he recalls. “But everything in my life was pretty much focused on myself. I was not helping my fellow man. It wasn’t rewarding.”
Having grown up poor, one of four children raised by a divorced mom in Detroit, “I experienced hunger first-hand as a child,” he recalls. “I have vivid memories of that – and not just memories of being hungry.”
“A lot of nights, dinner was two pieces of white bread and butter, with sugar sprinkled on it. And when we had cereal, it was with water poured on it. To this day, I still eat my cereal with water.”
Although he often went to bed hungry, that isn’t the most difficult memory: “The hardest part was seeing my mother going through all of that pressure and stress. It tore her apart to send us to bed hungry.”
His childhood is one of the main reasons Timothy is so passionate about feeding the homeless today, because he knows what extreme hunger feels like.”
“Everybody can understand if you skip a meal. But you and I know we’re going to get that next meal. When I was a child, we didn’t know if there would be a next meal. So it’s not just the hunger, but the fear that went along with that.”
In 2003, Timothy asked by a friend what he truly wanted to do with his life. His reply: “I want to feed the homeless.” So he quit his corporate job, bought a 1985 van (the “Soup 1”) with more than 250,000 miles on it, gathered up a few volunteers and started serving the hungry.
His wife, Peggy, was on board for the life change from the start. Although she passed away from multiple sclerosis a little more than a year after the SoupMobile started, “every time I get in and start the vehicle, I feel her there with us,” Timothy says.
During lunch service, which gets going quickly thanks to an advance team that sets up the tables, Timothy and his staff greet the people in line with hugs and laughter. There are no limits on how many times someone can go through the line; they can continue filling up as long as there is food on the tables.
One afternoon, Timothy recalls, a homeless man approached him after lunch and thanked him for the meal, as often happens.
“He said, ‘I hadn’t eaten for awhile, so I was really hungry. I want to help you; I want to donate something.’ ” Timothy insisted it wasn’t necessary.
“But he reached into the pocket of his threadbare blue jeans and gave me all that he had, which was nine cents,” Timothy says. “Nine pennies, and he gave them to me. It was all I could do not to have tears in my eyes. It was the best donation I’ve ever received.”
Timothy has seen first-hand the transformations that can occur with a little assistance and belief in someone. SoupMobile’s head chef, Thomas Waters, 59, was homeless himself for years. After learning about the SoupMobile, he worked up the nerve to ask for a different kind of help.
“I came in one day and just asked him for a chance,” says Waters, who grew up poor and started stealing cars when he was still in school. “I’d hit rock-bottom, and it was the hardest thing to face. You feel lost when you don’t have any help.”
When Timothy learned that Waters had experience as a cook, he offered him the job as head chef for SoupMobile.
“By the grace of God, he gave me a second chance,” Waters says. “I told him he’d never regret it – and he tells me all the time that he doesn’t.”
When he’s out serving meals these days, “people come up to me to say thank you,” Waters says. “It feels great to give back. Anybody can receive, but giving back is the most important thing.”
Back at the SoupMobile headquarters in a nondescript building in downtown Dallas, Timothy sits at his desk, surrounded by Rocky memorabilia.
Timothy, who draws a salary now but was paid a dollar for the first two years, has a staff of about five to 10 people, depending on the time of year. Although he’s the boss, his chair, however, doesn’t seem too comfortable; it’s held together by what appears to be duct tape.
Lon Ricker, the foundation’s director of development, has been one of many to offer to buy him a new one, “but [Timothy] says, ‘No, no, no,'” Ricker says. “It helps him to remember his roots.”
“This chair goes back to the founding of the SoupMobile,” Timothy explains. “It helps keep me humble and to remember it’s not about me.”
“We’ve all heard the expression, ‘There but by the grace of God go I,'” he adds. “We’ve changed that to, ‘There go I.’ We’re the same. We’re all just people trying to make their way in this life.”
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