Soup salvation: how senior touches lives
In the 15 years Lionel Cann has been driving the Salvation Army soup van, he’s faced down knife-wielding attackers, rats, and temperamental vehicles.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” said the 74-year-old. “When I first started I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea what the scale of the hunger problem was in Bermuda.”
Six days a week he delivers soup to anyone who wants it, in the City of Hamilton and its surrounding parishes.
On August 11 he retired but, with no one to take over, he was back on the job the next day.
Much has changed since he started out. He remembers being frightened to take food to Court Street, known as being a rough area.
Once, he was handing out soup there when a man pulled a knife.
“I talked him into putting the knife down,” said Mr Cann. “When he did, I really did feel that God was with me. I don’t do what I do for myself, I do it all in God’s name.
“I soon realised that people there looked out for me. They told me things I needed to know.”
Over the years, he’s developed a fondness for some of his regulars. An elderly man who “once held a good job” but had fallen on hard times, was one of his favourites.
“He was sleeping rough in the bushes and leaving cups of half-eaten soup around his sleeping place,” said Mr Cann.
“It was disgusting back there. I asked him if we could go in and clean it up. It was awful. I never saw such big rats in all my life.”
There are people who walk away with several cups; not everyone is needy.
“They take it to their elderly neighbours, or their family members,” Mr Cann said. “Some people just like the soup. That’s all right. We do it for the fellowship.”
He recalled feeding a family of six visiting Bermuda from Jordan.
“We parked by the ferry terminal and they came from across the street,” he said. “They wanted to know what we were doing.
“I encouraged them to try the soup. They loved it. I just wanted them to enjoy Bermuda.”
Lynne, Mr Cann’s wife of 52 years, travels the route with him.
He recalls how they were stranded with a pile of soup on Queen Street, after the van broke down.
“I’d left the flashers going and the battery wore down,” he said. “We were only halfway through.
“Luckily a taxi came along and gave us a jump. The volunteers had all walked off to their cars by that point, but my wife and I delivered the rest of the food.”
His kindness hasn’t been limited to Bermuda.
After the 9/11 terror attacks he spent two weeks in New York City helping out.
“That was a very humbling experience,” he said. “I drove a truck taking supplies to Ground Zero. “I’d never smelled burning flesh before. It was an emotionally exhausting experience.”
Mr Cann grew up on St Monica’s Road in Pembroke.
“Fire from the Marsh Folly dump would burn constantly,” he said. “The smoke would come in our backyard and we had to stay in at times.”
Sundays were spent in church.
“We went to St Monica’s Mission in the morning,” he said. “We had a break for lunch, then there was Sunday school at 3pm. Then, because we lived next to the Pentecostal church, we went to that in the evening.”
He became involved with the Salvation Army when he joined a Boy Scout troop there at age 11.
“Those were the days before electronics and motorbikes,” he said. “We had well over 100 boys in the Boy Scouts.
“I have carried the Boy Scout motto, ‘always be prepared’, with me throughout my life. I am always preparing myself for the next adventure.”
He was a “mediocre student” at Central School, but blossomed at the Bermuda Technical Institute where he was allowed to be “very hands on”.
He went to work at Cable & Wireless at 18 and joined the Salvation Army that same year.
“That has been my life since then,” he said. “I love the Army. It suits my personality.”
He retired from Cable & Wireless at 60.
“I was a ‘mechanician’, a technical/mechanical person,” he said. “When they brought in trainers I would listen, but then my hands would go to work.
“That person who came to train me, I was their supervisor in the final analysis. They sent me to England for training. I trained the trainers there too.”
When he finally steps down from the food truck, he hopes to focus on his passion for photography.
His photos have been published in the Salvation Army newsletter and in The Royal Gazette.
“I love taking photos, particularly landscapes,” he said. “I [also] love to travel. I’d love to visit Banff in Alberta, Canada. I’ve heard the scenery there is beautiful.
“I’d also like to go to Holland to see the tulips. I might take some courses in photography.”
He and his wife have three daughters, Andrea, Angela and Alisa, and three grandchildren.
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