Bega’s Soup Ute provides warmth and company each Thursday night

Elka Wood7 August 2019
Noticing that services were closing their doors at 5pm, juts when it's dark and cold, Chris Groninger decided to take action. Photo: Elka Wood.

Noticing that services were closing their doors at 5 pm, just when it’s dark and cold, Chris Groninger decided to take action. Photos: Elka Wood.

I’m waiting for Chris Groninger at the bus stop opposite Centrelink in Bega on a chilly evening. Although dusk is falling, there is no sign of Chris or his Soup Ute until he suddenly pulls up alongside me and unceremoniously begins unloading a few boxes.

“This is it, this is the Soup Ute,” Chris says with a broad smile. “We have canned soup heated up on a gas camp stove and bread rolls and we’re here between 6 and 8 pm on Thursdays. And that’s it – we wanted to keep it simple so that we could keep doing it every week and be consistent.”

Born a few months ago in a casual family church operating out of the Wolumla Hall, the Soup Ute is the work of Chris and friends Greg and Carol Gillen, who were all separately wanting to do something productive to help the community and address the inequalities they saw.

“There are a lot of people who are worse off than us,” Carol says.

Chris, who works in mental health at Bega Hospital, saw a need for after dark services.

Greg and Carol Gillen at the Soup Ute are always up for a chat. Photo: Elka Wood.

Greg and Carol Gillen at the Soup Ute are always up for a chat.

The church is a place where they and a few other families “pray, read the bible and encourage each other,” but more than that, Chris explains, it’s a place for conversation.

And it was out of this conversation that the idea for The Soup Ute sprung.

“I was talking to Carol about this idea and all of a sudden, I thought – I don’t want this to be just an idea, I actually want this to be an action.”

“It gets dark and cold and all the doors close at 5 pm,” Chris continues “we know there are people sleeping rough and we wanted to do something small to help.”

Bega Valley Shire council have donated the use of the shelter on the corner of Church and Carp streets. Photo: Elka Wood.

Bega Valley Shire Council has donated the use of the shelter on the corner of Church and Carp streets.

After thirteen years working in mental health and the last six of those spent in Bega, Chris readily acknowledges that there are discrepancies and inequalities in society.

“People are so fascinating,” he says cheerfully, “and I really do believe we are more alike than we are different but if people don’t get their needs met, especially when they are young, they become scarred and it is difficult for scarred people to keep their heads above the water in a complex society.”

As night falls, Greg heats up tomato soup and the smell, heat and steam rising from the tiny stove seem to warm the whole street.

They don’t have many takers yet, but the ones who do come eat heartily, according to Carol.

Greg Gillen warms tomato soup in Bega on Thursday 1st August. Photo: Elka Wood.

Greg Gillen warms tomato soup in Bega on Thursday, August 1.

And the service really is open to everyone, whether you are an office worker heading to your car, a kid on the way home from soccer practice or a traveller passing through.

Greg laughs and says that sometimes he calls out ‘free soup’ to passers-by and people often stop to ask how much it is.

“It’s free, it really is free, for everyone.”

Lately, the group has realised, with the help of staff from Sapphire Community Pantry and Mission Australia, that people who are sleeping out often hunker down after dark, not wanting to leave their possessions unattended.

So the portable Soup Ute, with thermos’ of hot soup, has been stopping at the old Bega Racecourse between 6:30 and 7 pm and at the Bega Showgrounds between 7 and 7:30 pm to make the soup more accessible for more people.

Carol also has blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothing available at these places.

The regular Soup Ute on Church street remains open between 6 and 8pm every Thursday.

Chris, Carol and Greg would like to thank all those who have helped, especially their friend Nicole Powell, who got them set up with many of their supplies, organised insurance for The Soup Ute and fills in when needed on Thursdays.

What's Your Opinion?

25 Responses to Bega’s Soup Ute provides warmth and company each Thursday night

Deejay Jukic Deejay Jukic 8:13 pm 10 Aug 19

Eve Line (Evie) u will like this ๐Ÿ’“

    Eve Eveline Eve Eveline 8:22 pm 10 Aug 19

    Deejay Jukic love it!! ๐Ÿ˜โค๏ธ๐Ÿ™Œ

Monica McCraw Monica McCraw 9:00 am 08 Aug 19

Congratulations on your caring for others less fortunate than ourselves

Gee Perera Gee Perera 6:25 am 08 Aug 19

Fantastic idea. I think your heart is as warm as your soup โ˜บ๏ธ

Lorna Zhulan Lorna Zhulan 5:31 pm 07 Aug 19

Love in action

Sam Stevenson Sam Stevenson 4:40 pm 07 Aug 19

Absolute legends ... this is the stuff that creates change for people ... tangible real effort .... love it Chris

    Cathie Cahill Cathie Cahill 6:06 pm 07 Aug 19

    Sam Stevenson The government does nothing so the people do! ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿผ

Marjorie Stares Marjorie Stares 4:30 pm 07 Aug 19

Congratulations on your soup Ute Chris Greg and Carol . The Bega area needed something for a very long time .

If people want to volunteer to help in anyway can they and what do you need .

I would love to do that if I lived up there .

Work out if there is things you need or just for others to come along for awhile and maybe bring an extra burner to help prepare the soup .

I hope that others get involved and also local businesses too help where they can .

Elizabeth Stenhouse Elizabeth Stenhouse 4:04 pm 07 Aug 19

Bless you for doing this for community

Cherie Wighton Cherie Wighton 2:53 pm 07 Aug 19

Well done, great thought ๐Ÿ’ญ, very kind of you to care ๐Ÿ’•

Narelle McIlhagga Narelle McIlhagga 1:36 pm 07 Aug 19

Itโ€™s a God send. How wonderful. If you need someone to help out serving or cooking home made soup please let me know

Sue West Sue West 1:00 pm 07 Aug 19

Fantastic and very sensible way to help

Julie Caldeira Julie Caldeira 12:24 pm 07 Aug 19

I have been very proud to be part of the Bega Valley community.. and to work with Chris Groninger . He walks the walk . Thankyou all for what you are doing ..

Cath Healy Cath Healy 10:14 am 07 Aug 19

Brilliant idea. Well done to you all for reaching out. I put my hand up if you need help or we can expand to Bemboka plz let me know def interested in helping

Louise Curzon Louise Curzon 9:11 am 07 Aug 19

Heart warming

Kath Miller Kath Miller 8:50 am 07 Aug 19

Fantastic on the ground support for those who need it. Congratulations to all those involved.

Robin McPherson Robin McPherson 8:50 am 07 Aug 19

Great idea.

Judy Stewart Judy Stewart 8:44 am 07 Aug 19

Love in actionโค๏ธ

Christine A Welsh Christine A Welsh 8:31 am 07 Aug 19

A terrific example of keeping it simple, yet making a difference. Good on you all. xxxxx

Michelle Preston Michelle Preston 8:11 am 07 Aug 19

Community helping community. Bless those that see a need and actively respond to it ๐Ÿ’“

Francine Trenerry Francine Trenerry 8:04 am 07 Aug 19

Brilliant and heart warming!! Well done ๐Ÿ‘

Sherry Lucas Sherry Lucas 8:03 am 07 Aug 19

Absolutely fantastic idea, I'm sure your kindness is very much appreciated.