The Organic Soup Kitchen in Santa Barbara doesn’t slow down.
The nonprofit organization serves some of Santa Barbara County’s most vulnerable, and during these difficult times, it has continued to provide healthy and nutrient-dense foods. It is working around the clock to meet the growing demand in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Organic Soup Kitchen is feeding people in need of food while staying committed to creating high-quality soups with consistency and medicinal value, founder Anthony Carroccio said.
“When we say we don’t turn people away, we don’t turn anyone away,” Carroccio said. “Although, we do have parameters … we want to make sure it goes to the right people.”
Each plant-based soup meal includes “the best of the best” organic vegetables and organic fats, and all herbs and spices are certified nonradiated to maintain its medicinal value, Carroccio said. Himalayan crystal salt is used because it’s a rich source of minerals.
“We developed a soup that I would say from one to 10, the flavor is about a nine,” Carroccio said. “The nutrition content is about 100. There’s no filler, no additive and no preservative. We don’t buy any broths. We make everything.”
Last year, the organization had an opportunity to move into new headquarters and further its mission with support from the Hutton Parker Foundation, which specializes in providing quality space for local nonprofit organizations through the acquisition and development of commercial real estate properties.
The soup kitchen team rolled up their sleeves and renovated an abandoned kitchen in Santa Barbara.
“We gutted it out,” Carroccio said, adding that OSK also contributed $250,000 to the project.
The Organic Soup Kitchen was warming up to its high-end and controlled equipment at 608 Anacapa St. Essential high-powered upgrades included refrigeration, ovens, 60-gallon steam kettles and other kitchen technology.
The kitchen cooks 120-gallon soup batches at a time, and that makes 600 24-ounce containers.
Recipes follow the protocol of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and dietary guidelines of the American Cancer Society. The Organic Soup Kitchen partnered with oncologists and worked diligently to ensure that its soup meals contain ingredients that balance blood sugar, improve circulation and lower inflammation.
“Recipes had to change because instead of filling small pots,” Carroccio said, “now we are filling big pots, so all of our recipes have to be reconfigured.”
The soups are simmered at 160 to 170 degrees, and the recipe calls for dropping the temperature to 140 degrees, and pumping the soups into BPA-free containers. The soups are hermetically sealed so that no pathogens and bacteria can enter. The meals are immediately chilled and labeled.
The Organic Soup Kitchen is regularly providing soup to individuals struggling with chronic illnesses and cancer. Clients fill out an intake form and a quarterly survey on their food intake.
“We are particular and meticulous on who we serve,” Carroccio said. “As soon as COVID-19 happened, I immediately learned what people need is a strong immune system … that’s exactly what we do.”
The organization expanded its service to the public in response to the impacts surrounding the pandemic and is serving more than 400 clients.
“Bam, it doubles,” Carroccio said about the number of clients.
The Organic Soup Kitchen serves several local organizations, including Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the Westside and Eastside neighborhood clinics, Doctors Without Walls and the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.
“We are cranking along pretty strong,” Carroccio said.
Pre-pandemic, farmers would donate produce to the kitchen, but “that went away because they don’t have as many people picking and they are not growing,” he said.
The Organic Soup Kitchen is purchasing all organic produce for the soup.
“I refuse to ever dilute our quality,” Carroccio said, adding that spices and herbs are expensive, and come from Portland, Ore. “We don’t buy anything locally because it’s not available in the Santa Barbara area.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced changes to the number of people in the kitchen because of social distancing measures to curb further spread of the still-raging outbreak.
“We have to buy it (produce) pre-sliced and diced because we are limiting the amount of people in our kitchen,” Carroccio said. “The biggest challenge we have is our output has doubled, our manpower has diminished and our donations have diminished.
“We have the equipment to take care of our 400-plus clients, but if we had the funding we could take care of thousands.”
In addition to its production, the organization offers home delivery, and 20 trained volunteer drivers give meals to clients.
Drivers deliver weekly to people across Santa Barbara’s South Coast. The service is available from Summerland to Goleta, including seniors, families, people with medical conditions and other community members who desire immune-boosting soups to their front door. It offers soup pickup, too.
Residents at the Villa Santa Fe Apartments, owned by Santa Barbara’s Housing Authority, receive meals every Wednesday.
For Dianne Bess, the soup delivery is a huge help. During the pandemic, she said she doesn’t want to leave her house or interact with the public if possible because her husband, Jim, has a compromised immune system.
“We get a bag with containers of soup left on our doorknob,” she said. “It’s extremely important for us because my husband has cancer.”
Jim Bess has had cancer since 1992, and he recently came off of remission. He was in remission for 16 years, and he recently started the first round of his new treatment with a seven-hour infusion.
“Virtually, the only thing he ate was a cup of soup when he got home,” Dianne Bess said. “He has been eating some soup every single day for the last month.”
He ate soup with Tuscan white bean and kale. Dianne Bess said the couple have been vegetarian for 16 years, which makes the Organic Soup Kitchen’s contributions even more important to them.
She said that in the past, she would share the soup with her husband; she’s now saving the meal for him. A few of her favorite soups include butternut squash, as well as curry coconut lentil and tomato basil and mushroom barley.
“The soups are delicious,” she said. “It has made a huge difference financially for us to have some meals provided.”
The Organic Soup Kitchen has stepped up for the community and filled a critical gap, and it’s committed to regularly donating to local nonprofit organizations and agencies.
“I’m moved to tears by their compassion for our community and how quickly they have reached out to our first responders,” Dianne Bess said. “They were able to see a need and jump in, and do it without even being asked.”
Volunteering for the OSK
As a volunteer and board member, Cheryl Giefer wears a variety of hats. She said she loves participating in the OSK events, fundraising efforts and more.
She helped organize soup deliveries to area medical staff at a time when the need for optimal nutrition is high, and spearheaded online efforts to raise money for organic produce in the time of the coronavirus.
“The price of organic rice and beans skyrocketed,” Giefer said. “Everybody is getting anything that has a shelf life like lentils, brown rice and green peas.”
The Organic Soup Kitchen produce is safe and clean, Giefer said.
The dedicated volunteer has performed a wide range of tasks, including planning the menu for past big events and sourcing some of the ingredients. There is camaraderie in the kitchen and, of course, preparing and packaging foods.
“We make it fun,” Giefer said. “It’s lively.”
If you are what you eat, then the Organic Soup Kitchen stands to reason that a variety of flavorful soups can be richly nutritious food with the intent to nourish spirits and bodies.
“What we provide and the food we provide is medicinal,” Giefer said. “It’s delicious at the same time.”
Giefer was first introduced to the OSK while serving on the Sarah House Santa Barbara board of directors about 15 years ago. Carroccio provided organic soups for the hospice organization’s events and some clients at the end-of-life care home.
Giefer said she was drawn to the OSK about 12 years ago, when the son of her friend was killed in a vehicle accident. He was about 30 years old.
“She was distraught and couldn’t plan a proper service,” Giefer said of her friend. “I stepped in with a couple of other friends to help.”
Giefer contacted Carroccio the day after Thanksgiving. The call came shortly after the OSK brought the community together and served its annual Thanksgiving meals to guests at the Veterans Memorial Building along Santa Barbara’s waterfront. She explained the fatal accident.
“I knew he was going to be busy and didn’t expect much,” Giefer said of Carroccio. “I asked him if he would help.”
Giefer said that without a scintilla of hesitation, Carroccio responded, “Absolutely. What do you want?”
Money was a concern at the time, Giefer said. Even so, Carroccio offered a helping hand in a matter of hours.
Carroccio has a heart of gold, she said.
“I’ve known him all of these years, and that’s the way he is,” Giefer said of Carroccio. “He steps up no matter what, and to me, I wanted to help and support people that help and support people.”
Carroccio started a health magazine before creating the Organic Soup Kitchen, and he interviewed top chefs, gurus and healers. He is an abundance of knowledge, Giefer said.
“Every single last ingredient, the herbs and everything else, are sourced organic and nutrient-rich,” Giefer said. “That’s the heart of what they do today.”
She said she’s in awe of the grassroots organization and the family operation, Giefer said, adding that the Organic Soup Kitchen is priceless in the community.
“Year after year after year, they don’t pause,” Giefer said. “If there’s a need, they are there. They are all heart.”