Anthony Carroccio, the executive director of Santa Barbara’s Organic Soup Kitchen and a naturally talented chef, practices what he preaches. A Rhode Island native and self-taught cook, Carroccio believes in the importance of providing organic, low glycemic, and anti-inflammatory foods to the homeless of Santa Barbara. “Healthy eating is a necessity,” he explains.
Carroccio’s Organic Soup Kitchen, which now produces 120 quarts of soup every Sunday for 300 needy Santa Barbarans, was started in 2009 when Carroccio noticed the failing economy meant a growing homeless population. He came up with a name, and started taking his homemade organic vegetable soup to the homeless in the park. After the organization became a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in December 2009, it was able to also bring in Doctors Without Walls to examine patients while they received their soup every Sunday.
“You can’t hold folks’ hands and shove them into a house,” said Carroccio. “You must build their strength up and support them. The only way to get people back on their feet is to make them strong again.” That’s why organic vegetables serve as the backbone of this soup kitchen, which Carroccio hopes will aid in the recovery of such common homeless health problems as edema and diabetes.
The Organic Soup Kitchen receives its grains and vegetables as donations from the Farmers Market, and breads and muffins are supplied by Whole Foods. According to Carroccio, cooking organically is just as economical as cooking conventionally, and consumers receive the same amount of nutritional value, minus the chemicals. “These people are eating so much conventional food latent with hormones,” asserted Carroccio.
Before his charitable work began with the Organic Soup Kitchen, Carroccio—who’s called Santa Barbara home since 1982—traveled the world rating various spas, and was published in health and wellness magazines such as Healing Retreats and Spa Trends. He is also on the board for the Medical Spa Society in New York and has studied alongside such health experts as Andrew Weil and John Robbins. Always an educator of raw foods and nutrition, Carroccio received his food handler’s license in October 2009 and soon after opened the soup kitchen at the Veterans Memorial Building downtown. “Once I started developing a connection with these people, I couldn’t think of doing anything else,” Carroccio said.
He’s also working to dispel the myths surrounding the homeless population, explaining that nearly 50 percent of the homeless in Santa Barbara are women and children, with the average age being nine years old. “It’s a silent culture that no one wants to talk about because it is too close to their biggest nightmare,” said Carroccio, explaining that mental health and drug problems only account for a small percentage. “There is a lot of shame involved in asking for help.” Besides the weekly Sunday service, the entirely volunteer Organic Soup Kitchen team provides services every other Friday to 60 women at the Transition House, where the women are able to do laundry and consume healthy food.
Although the Organic Soup Kitchen has blossomed greatly since its 2009 start, Carroccio is still seeking to expand. He’d like to open a culinary program where the homeless can learn how to work in a kitchen and become certified food handlers and also run a mobile food vehicle that can do outreach distribution in the region’s homeless hotbeds. Altogether, the team at the Organic Soup Kitchen hopes to turn their weekly effort to help the homeless into a daily program.
There is a Jazz Barbecue Soiree fundraiser for the Organic Soup Kitchen on Sunday, August 15, 2-6 p.m., at the Veterans Memorial Building. For more info on the event and the organization, see organicsoupkitchen.org or call 886-7427.