Organic Soup Kitchen founder Anthony Carroccio was motivated to seek a life of healthy eating after the death of his mother when he was 15 years old.
She was just 48 years old, and the early death was devastating for the Rhode Island teen, the youngest of six boys.
He grew up in a self-described traditional Italian family, where his dad was a bread baker, mom was a housewife and pasta was a diet staple.
Carroccio, 67, worked as a carpenter and started a health magazine before creating the Organic Soup Kitchen.
The organization began informally after the 2008 recession, where Carroccio fed the homeless, many of them with jobs, on a single day at Pershing Park.
A year later he created the nonprofit organization, which today serves organic meals to cancer patients, low-income seniors, and homeless residents.
The Organic Soup Kitchen has been working out of the kitchen at the Veterans Memorial Building, but is now embarking on a capital campaign to raise $1.5 million to fund a 3,000-square-foot headquarters with a new kitchen, endowment and sustain five years of program operations.
“We have the power in this community to really, really help people,” Carroccio said.
Carroccio cooks with organic, gluten-free products and non-irradiated herbs. For cancer patients, the soups are pureed since many of them have difficulty swallowing.
“Every herb and spice has a medicinal value,” Carroccio said.
For Carroccio, it all began at 15, after his mother died of heart disease. Devastated, he left home to work, and got a job with a carpenter who taught him the skills of the trade.
He built cabinets and discovered that he loved the craft and the feeling of completing a project.
“It’s a very independent thing,” he said. “Someone can’t take it away you. You can’t lose it.”
Carroccio left Rhode Island in 1982. He picked a spot on the map — Summerland — and drove there. He loved the area’s sweeping coastal views.
As a carpenter, he wanted to build houses, but didn’t realize there was a building moratorium. A year later, he said he got the first permit to build a house in Summerland.
He and a contractor buddy built four houses, and then sold them, although he said he wishes he still owned them.
Carroccio got involved in yoga and impressed those in the community with his knowledge of healthy eating. Someone told him that he should write a newsletter explaining to people what he eats.
“People don’t really know what I know about food and health,” he said. Within a year, he started a magazine, Healing Retreats & Spa Magazine, which shipped 50,000 copies every eight weeks.
He said he featured every health guru in the world in the magazine, from Deepak Chopra to Tony Robbins.
In the early 2000s, Carroccio sold the publication and decided that “it was time to give back a little bit.”
He wanted to use the homemade, hand-crafted recipes and health remedies to help others, particularly those who struggle with nutrition. Low-income and homeless people are the most vulnerable, he said.
“This is the most fragile population there is,” Carroccio said. “They should have the most dense-nutrient product there is.”
After Carroccio formed the Organic Soup Kitchen, he said he worked to educate people about the importance of healthy eating.
“People don’t really know what I know about food and health,” Carroccio said. “I felt very alone. I had to constantly educate and educate.”
He lives by example, eating healthy and working out on a Nautilus machine at home.
“I feel strong as a horse,” Carroccio told Noozhawk. “I take no medications.”
While he prefers yoga to barbels, he believes in powerlifting when it comes to his nonprofit organization, which today boasts a $1.5-million budget.
Carroccio hopes he can eventually open offices outside of Santa Barbara County to serve even more people.
He keeps a humble attitude about his work and helping people enjoy longer lives.
“I feel like I am doing my job,” he said.