Good People: Soupvan, Stories Over a Polystyrene Cup

On Tuesday this week, more horror, this time in Boston. On the news, images were played repeatedly… the same graphic, upsetting imagery on loop, over and over. Fire and smoke, damaged humans, tears and devastation.

It’s easy to get angry, to throw your hands up in despair and wonder at the state of humanity. But then we might noticed a theme, a fact pointed out by a quiet few on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere… they asked us to take a look at all the people running towards the trouble, not away from it.

Some people, even in the face of great personal risk will do what they can, when the moment is upon them, to help their fellow human beings. Taking note of this, it helps.

soupvanIt is this desire to help, in a modest, practical, and meaningful way that makes Keira Dickinson’s Soupvan – Stories Over a Polystyrene Cup (Rag and Bone Man) such an inspiring work…

The soup vans of Melbourne are not just about soup – they’re about creating a universe on a street corner where everyone is equal.

Pick up this book anywhere, anytime, at any page, to be reminded of what it is to live, share, celebrate and commiserate. These stories capture what really happens on the streets of your city. We are privileged to be able to share.

It’s a celebration of the volunteer, the ‘vannie’ who puts their hand up to make sandwiches, to stir soup, and almost as importantly, to lend an ear. It’s about stories, the volunteers being paid back in spades by those they help as they build connections with unique individuals, many of whom have amazing, often moving stories to tell.

These stories form the core of book. They’re harrowing, inspirational, simple and frank…

“What happened was this. I was born into charity at the end of the war in 1945. If it wasn’t for America we would have all starved. I was a premature baby. That was my father’s fault. He walked in to the house one day. My mother was standing in the kitchen. He had blood all over him. He had killed our next door neighbour. That man had accused him of stealing. My father was a liar but he didn’t steal. My mother was in such a state of shock she started to have contractions. I was born right away, three months early. My father went to jail, my mother died soon after from blood poisoning, and I was stunted because I starved and had no one to raise me.”

…and they put into context the sometimes damaged, often ostracised individuals that live on the fringes of our community.

Sometimes the vannies have their own stories…

“We all had our reasons for joining the van. You can’t be a volunteer, they say, without a hidden agenda. Thing is, our agendas were pretty much out in the open, pretty in line with the soup van way of life. My grandparents were alcoholics, Stephen was raised as a child with surrogate parents, Mark became a Buddhist… “

…and I think that’s maybe why the soup vans work so well. The vans don’t just help the community, they are genuinely part of the community. Through these stories, from both the volunteers and those grabbing good food from good people, there’s no sense of superiority or paternalism. It would seem that these programs are really just a very practical, lend-a-hand service appreciated equally by those inside and outside of the van.

It’s a wonderful relief to be reminded that most of us are essentially good people, just trying to get along, helping each other out where we can. And as Keira wisely says; “Don’t ever give up on anyone; be kind to people. Because under different circumstances it could have been you.” Indeed, be kind to people…

Take a look, find out more about Soupvan stories here and you can buy the book here.

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