Organic Soup Kitchen Meets Skyrocketing Demand for its Nutrient-Dense Soups

Nonprofit Serves Low-Income Seniors with Cancer or Chronic Illness

OSK Team: Tony Carroccio, Jasmine Gosnel, Co-Founder and Executive Director Anthony Carroccio, Co-Founder and COO Drea Slaby Carroccio, and Melanie Mitchell | Credit: Courtesy

When COVID hit last March, the Organic Soup Kitchen (OSK) went into high gear to meet the skyrocketing demand for its nutrient-dense SoupMeals, which it has been delivering to those with cancer and chronic illness for the past 11 years. As referrals from partner agencies rose, OSK quickly transformed its operation from serving an average of 275 clients per week to 625 clients each week. 

While the focus remains on those with degenerative disease, OSK announced last March that its services were available to anyone in the county. Nearly all clients remain low-income seniors with cancer or chronic illness. A sliding-scale fee program is used by 90 percent of clients, with the majority paying nothing or only a few dollars per month. 

The immune-building nature of the SoupMeals has taken on added importance with COVID’s highly contagious, lethal nature. OSK’s primary focus, according to Executive Director Anthony Carroccio, has always been on strengthening the immune system, increasing energy, and promoting healing because its clients are the community’s most fragile members.

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OSK sources produce locally as much as possible, working closely with local farms and the nonprofit Veggie Rescue, salvaging produce each week and flash-freezing it. The social-distancing requirements of the pandemic, however, have meant fewer volunteers can be present in the kitchen, which has caused OSK to cut back on these sources and purchase some of its produce pre-sliced and diced. This has significantly impacted its procurement costs, placing further demands on a budget that is also dealing with skyrocketing demand for its SoupMeals.

OSK is presently doing a feasibility study on opening a separate facility to process excess produce grown in the county to meet its growing demand and to supply other agencies.

The role of the 20-plus volunteer delivery drivers has become even more critical during the pandemic. According to Carroccio, most of its clients are experiencing heightened fears and isolation as a result of the virus, so they really look forward to seeing a friendly, trusted face each week. These visits with the drivers, Carroccio relates, provide an important check on the clients’ well-being. When the driver senses there are any issues, he or she relates that back to staff, who do further follow-up. This is part of OSK’s general program of checking in with clients periodically, inquiring about their health and appetite, and seeking feedback to enable OSK to improve its services.

The Organic Soup Kitchen collaborates with 20-plus organizations, including Cottage Health; Sansum Clinic, including Ridley-Tree Cancer Center; Hospice of S.B.; and VNA Health. It delivers from the Santa Ynez Valley to Carpinteria. Since COVID hit, OSK also has been providing SoupMeals to frontline healthcare workers at no cost.

To ensure that SoupMeals retain their medicinal value, OSK uses only non-irradiated herbs and spices, healthy fats and oils, and chemical-free whole foods. To address appetite issues, which are common with those fighting cancer, the SoupMeals are densely packed with food-derived vitamins and minerals so that even just a few spoonfuls provide significant nutrients. Difficulty swallowing is another common symptom among clients, so OSK semi-purees all SoupMeals. 

Some of the more popular soups are Coconut Curry Lentil, Roasted Tomato & Wild Rice, and Tuscan White Bean & Kale. Each soup is at least 90 percent organic, with a minimum of 15 ingredients.

Though OSK gets some funding from the City of Santa Barbara and the sliding-scale fees, the majority of its income comes from private grants and donations.

While OSK staff and volunteers have been putting in long hours throughout COVID and the operation is running at close to capacity, if demand increases, Carroccio is prepared to add even more shifts.

When asked what drives him to work so hard, Carroccio explained, “With as challenging as everything is for people right now, and every news headline being another story of suffering, I’m glad I can focus on what I do best, which is making nutritious soups and serving them to those in need. Anything is possible with a strong immune system.”

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