Credit: Don Brubaker

For Anthony Carroccio, a typical workday can start as early as 3 a.m. When you have a commercial kitchen to run that makes 1,400 bowls of soup per week, and hundreds of clients (and counting) to serve, you can never have too many hours in the day. 

Carroccio is the executive director of the Organic Soup Kitchen in downtown Santa Barbara. Gloves on, and ladles in hand, Carroccio and the kitchen’s volunteers start stirring things up before the crack of dawn to ensure they’ll be able to meet the needs of their clients — cancer patients, people who are chronically ill, and low-income individuals and seniors — by the time their “Soup Meals” go out for delivery every Wednesday. 

Anthony Carroccio | Credit: Don Brubaker

“The thing is, when you start getting sick with cancer, or chronic illness, the last thing you want to do is go to Lazy Acres, spend your last nickels and dimes, you know, for organic produce, and try to whip up something that you’re not used to making,” Carroccio said. “If you don’t have the proper nutrition, and you’ve got cancer, and you’re eating like a few crackers a day, you’re going to die of malnutrition, and many cancer patients die of malnutrition … but when you’re eating one of our meals, a few tablespoons is a full variety of nutrients.”

Using only organic ingredients, Organic Soup Kitchen volunteers and employees make all of their broths by hand and pack each bowl with 10 to 15 different vegetables. “You’re getting a complete meal,” Carroccio said. “There’s about three servings per container, and we give them as much as they need. If there are other people in their household, we take care of them, too.”

Last month, the Organic Soup Kitchen celebrated its 13th year of serving their nutrient-dense soups to communities all around the county. It also marked the beginning of their partnership with DoorDash to expand the delivery and distribution of their Soup Meals, since the number of clients they serve has jumped from 300 in 2019 to more than 800 in 2022, mostly as a result of the pandemic. 

“As soon as COVID slowed down, our actual clients kept increasing, and they’re increasing right now,” Carroccio said. “And so we’re in a little bit of an issue here because we still have all these clients and very little funding, so we just didn’t know where to turn.”  

The Soup Kitchen has 21 regular delivery drivers who deliver soups every Wednesday to the doorsteps of residents in need all around the county, who pay on a sliding scale based on what they can afford. However, with their clientele expanding, they have been struggling to keep up with demand. Partnering with DoorDash, as a part of the delivery company’s initiative Project Dash, has allowed them to increase their distribution, which stretches from Carpinteria to the Santa Ynez Valley. Surprisingly, they are the first organization in Santa Barbara to take advantage of the initiative.

According to a DoorDash spokesperson, Project Dash was created in 2017 and scaled up in 2020 during the pandemic, having completed millions of in-kind or low-cost, subsidized deliveries in the time since. “This is really helpful, especially for those who are mobility impaired, face transportation barriers, or any other challenges to accessing the food that they need,” they said. “We’re really leveraging our superpower here, which is providing local delivery and doing so in a way that emphasizes convenience and dignity, and allows organizations to leverage DoorDash logistics to increase access.”

DoorDash drivers who participate are paid like they would be when completing any other delivery, and, according to their spokesperson, the dashers enjoy “giving back to the community.” 

“Whenever we’re short on delivery drivers, DoorDash picks it up, Carroccio said. “So we’ll call them, and they will do a 10-mile radius for delivery for us…. They bailed us out a little bit. But the issue still persists: We still have 800 clients with pre-COVID funding, which is excruciating for us.”

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To keep the kitchen afloat, Carroccio said they approach it like any other local nonprofit: fighting for grants and funding. Despite the various challenges they have faced, what keeps them going is their connection to the community. 

“They wait for us; they wait for our drivers to show up,” Carroccio said, mentioning that one of their drivers, who is 83 years old, was once the first person to show up and call for help when a client was in need of emergency medical assistance. “And the people that we serve … most of them are our school teachers, our nannies, our cross guards, our librarians, people that work in variety stores and supermarkets,” he continued. “And here they are, alone, and it seems like nobody gives a hoot. It’s really, really frustrating.” 

Each bowl of soup from the Organic Soup Kitchen is hermetically sealed against bacteria and holds about 2 servings. Their current look will undergo rebranding soon, but the bowls will stay ‘green’ with their biodegradable packaging | Credit: Don Brubaker

According to the Organic Soup Kitchen website, often their volunteers can be their “clients’ only point of contact for the week. Through this vital weekly check-in, we break the cycle of social isolation by providing empathy, a shoulder to lean on, and nutrient-dense Soup Meals.” 

Brooke Johnson, a medical social worker for Hospice of Santa Barbara (one of Organic Soup Kitchens’ local distribution partners), said the Organic Soup Kitchen (OSK) has been “an incredible resource” for many of their clients. “For so many people fighting a serious illness and going through intense treatments, completing the most basic task such as cooking a meal can feel like climbing a mountain,” Johnson said. “OSK relieves some of that stress and burden with their soup delivery, while also providing vital nutrition that is so important to building up our clients’ immune systems.”

Other testimonials have affirmed, too, that the soups are “delicious.” Carroccio said he “wouldn’t put anything out there” he wouldn’t eat himself. Since the soups have such high ratings, alongside high nutritional value, the kitchen even opened up to selling the soups to upper- and middle-class customers. 

“There’s a lot of wealthy people that want to buy our soups also, but they don’t qualify for the program,” Carrocio said. “So we tell them, ‘Look, we don’t mind giving you soup, but please pay full price.’ And it’s helped us to sell soup, but it makes up about 10 percent of our budget, which is not a lot of money. But at least there’s people out there recuperating from cancer, who are able to eat clean food. You know what I’m saying?”

Carroccio said that the main goal the kitchen has in mind right now is to expand and continue to increase distribution; they currently operate out of a single two-story location on Anacapa Street, which serves as the kitchen, distribution center, office, and break room. Partnering with DoorDash was just a small step toward where they would like to be. 

“We cook everything, and we prep everything out of one location,” Carroccio said. “Our goal right now is to have various distribution centers. And, you know, it all comes down to funding. My dream would be to have a philanthropist show up to help support us in opening other locations all around the southern coast.”

Credit: Don Brubaker

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