CHICAGO — He began serving soup to homeless camps to in an effort to help achieve sobriety. Now, this local chef is on a mission, enlisting volunteers and creating a non-profit organization to help those fighting homelessness.
Kenneth Purnell is one of Chicago’s Very Own.
Chef Kenneth Purnell can get persnickety when it comes to picking and choosing which homemade soup donations he’ll accept.
“You have some people, they have what they call their grandmothers recipe and they’ll make soup but I have soup makers that have no knowledge, so that’s when I provide my recipe,” Purnell said.
Twice a week, Purnell picks up five gallons of soup from a “soup maker” and sets up a serving station to feed those in need at the Forest Park Blue Line station.
“A lot of people depend on me. If I’m late, they’ll let me know I’m late. They’re waiting,” Purnell said.
A former chef at a catering company, Purnell lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic and fell on hard times. Battling an alcohol addiction, he reached out for help.
“When you are trying to find your path, you did a lot of things that took you to alcoholism, it was suggested you know, volunteer, go to meetings, do different things to try and help you with your downtime,” Purnell said.
He said the choice seemed obvious to him: use his culinary skills to help others.
“I’m a chef, you know my trade is making food, I was like, ‘Hey let me make some food and give it to people who are sleeping on the street,’” Purnell said.
Just over a year ago with just a small cart and a five-gallon jug, Purnell took to the streets to feed the hungry.
First setting up at the 95th/Dan Ryan Red Line station, he eventually settled a little closer to home in Forest Park.
Serving up to 100 people a night, Purnell, now a student at DePaul University, said he couldn’t keep up with the soup demand on his own, so he reached out to social media for help.
Tiffany Bland is one of several people who offered to help.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t strive to get the most nutritious meals out that we can,” Bland said.
Purnell uses this site to organize his soup gurus. Each cook pays for the ingredients out of their own pocket, but the additional supplies still cost money.
With the help of Bland, Purnell founded ‘Souper Heroes’, a non-profit organization covering the costs of bowls and utensils.
Purnell said that his journey has allowed him to build relationships with many people living on the streets of Chicago, aiming to always go out of his way to be respectful.
Making soup and handing it out to others has given Purnell a purpose and a reason to stay sober.
“People ask me all the time, you don’t have anything how are you helping strangers? I tell them that when I was at my lowest a stranger helped me, and I just want to return the favor,” Purnell said.