SOUL serves more than just soup — it also serves hope
Although, as the owner of Dagsboro pizza restaurant GoodFellas, he makes his living feeding people, 26-year-old Rob Colone is also working hard these days to give away as much food as possible, and then some.
“There’s a large homeless population in our area that people don’t seem to be aware of,” he said. “I didn’t believe it until I saw it.”
Colone said he was introduced to the area’s growing homeless population after visiting a homeless community in the woods in Rehoboth Beach.
“I went to a meeting in Rehoboth and I saw there were homeless people in the meeting, and I had about a gallon and half of chili in my back seat from that day, and I was like, ‘Come on out,’” he recalled. “I fed them, and they said there was a tent city with about 25 homeless people living in the woods. When they told me there were about 25 people living in tents across the street from Walmart in Rehoboth, I was like, ‘There’s no way.’”
Colone said he was so overwhelmed by what he had seen that he went back the next day with more food.
“The next day I made 5 gallons of soup and brought all these jackets. I gave the coat off my back early in the night,” he said. “It was so rewarding. I thought, ‘I can actually afford to do this all the time.’”
From that thought, Colone created Serving Others Under the Lord (SOUL) Ministry, through the support of Bethel Tabernacle Church of God in Frankford.
“We are not a church group, but we do have a donation boxes at church, and they do support us in everything we do. This is just me going out and doing this and other people wanting to help me,” he explained, adding that the church has been extremely supportive of his work.
“I stood up in front of our congregation, let everyone know about the homeless program, and that’s how I ended up getting 70 jackets and this and that.”
Each week, Colone makes batches of homemade soups to take to his three different distribution locations. On Monday nights from 5:30 to 7 p.m., they go to Rehoboth Beach, and then they travel to the Christian Shelter in Salisbury, Md. The ministry is also in Ocean City, Md., at Sun’Spot Ministry on Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m.
“I’ve made chili, Italian wedding soup, ham-and-beans. All of the soups I make are homemade,” he noted. “I don’t get anything from cans. I don’t get anything from food companies. I go to the store and buy all the ingredients. I make it at our pizza shop. It’s the quality of which I would serve my family and customers.
“It has to have some kind of meat. It has to be hearty,” he said. “I’m trying to get the word out to the public — not only for donations, but to reach as many homeless people as possible so they know my schedule.”
Along with soups, Colone has also started to give out supplies to those his ministry is serving. He’s collecting new and gently used items, such as gloves, hats, sleeping bags, and toiletries, to be distributed every night the ministry is out.
“They asked, ‘Do you have this? Do you have that?’ I wrote it all down, and that’s how I came up with those items,” recalled Colone. “If people have items but cannot get them to us, we will come and pick them up.”
Colone said that the ministry may travel outside of Delmarva eventually, to go to the Baltimore area to distribute items, or even to Honduras for a few weeks in the summer, but his priority is to stay as local as possible.
“Right now, we’re just trying to take care of the people who are struggling here. The reason why this is getting as big as it is is because of their knowledge and support. They’re going to see that we’re staying local,” he said.
“Right now, we want to keep it local — not because we’re small-time and we’re just getting started, but because there are just so may people around here who need our help. Once we get the people around here the help they need for the most part, then we can start going farther away to help others.”
Colone said that, although he has brought awareness to some about the homeless population, people are still somewhat cruel at times.
“There are people who are stubborn to the fact,” he said. “I put a list on my Facebook of things we’re collecting that the homeless people need, and someone commented, ‘How about a job?’ I was kind about it. I said, ‘That’s perfect. If you own a small business and you’re looking for cheap labor and hard workers to help them, here’s an opportunity.’ They need a job the most.”
During one night of serving, Colone said, the experience helped change one volunteer’s preconception about what it means to be homeless.
“I had a lady come out the first night. When she showed up, she asked, ‘Should I hide my purse?’ I said, ‘If it makes you feel better, sure. But these people aren’t monsters.’ She’s been coming out every week since them and has been a huge supporter,” he said. “It just took her one time to realize they’re people. They are people. That’s the main thing.”
He added he believes that the homeless population on Delmarva is in need of an advocate, as, he said, the resources available to them are not adequate.
“The homeless shelters in this state and in Maryland are terrible. In Salisbury, the homeless shelter there closes and locks its doors at 10 o’clock at night. So if you’re homeless and show up and 10:01, they’ll tell you good luck ’til the morning,” he said.
“What are they supposed to do? Go out and commit a crime so they get arrested so they have a warm cell to sleep in? Then, when they get out of jail and find a job, they have so many fines, it’s hard for them to get back on top. They lose hope.”
SOUL Ministries currently is only seeking donations of items. Colone said that, although the group does accept monetary donations, he’d prefer people take the time to collect items to be donated, regardless.
“Anybody can give me $50 and say, ‘Here, have fun.’ I’d rather someone take a half-hour and go through their pantry or their closet.”
Colone has held donation drives at the Clayton Theatre in Dagsboro, as well as his own restaurant. On Christmas Day, he dressed as Santa Claus and delivered presents to homes in Sussex County where the families were having a hard time affording Christmas gifts. He even held an event at GoodFellas on Christmas night, at which those who were in need could show up, get a slice of pizza, meet Santa and receive a toy.
Colone said he plans on continuing the service to the community throughout the year — not only at Christmastime.
“I plan on doing it all year: spring, summer, fall and winter. I want people to know that this is not an organization that is only around during Christmas. I want people to know that this is year-round, every week.”
During the short time that the ministry has been in existence, Colone said the community support has been unbelievable, and he hopes it will continue.
“Eric and Cherith Snyder — they are my two biggest supporters. They go out and pick up items. They go out with me every time I set up,” he said. “A woman heard him on a local radio station after Thanksgiving and called, offering turkey soup she’d made from leftovers. She literally came out and brought turkey soup, stuffing and all this food. It’s hard for us to turn anything down because of the need.”
Colone said that, although he does bring warm food and warm clothes to those in need, what he wishes to instill the most in those he serves is hope.
“Our main message is hope. Whether or not you’re a recovering addict or alcoholic, we’re not judging you. We just want to help give people what they need to survive and hope to let them know there are people out there like us who have not given up on them.”
Donations for SOUL Ministries may be dropped off at Bethel Tabernacle Church, located at 34180 Omar Road in Clarksville, just west of St. George’s United Methodist Church, or at GoodFellas, located at 30506 Vines Creek Road in Dagsboro. Checks to help the effort may be made to BTC Church. For more information on SOUL Ministries, visit www.facebook.com/soulministriesde. Colone may be reached by calling (302) 858-9940.