Helping the Homeless Survive: the Organic Soup Kitchen
12 Jul, 2010
It’s a topic that’s tough to think about: the homeless. There are those of us who do what we can for them—drop change in a bucket, spend a day serving food at a homeless shelter, or donate to a charity. Some dive in and do everything they can to help, and former publisher Anthony Carroccio not only decided to feed the homeless, he determined to do so in the healthiest way possible.
For Carroccio, previously a successful publisher of a magazine called Healing Retreats & Spas and current founder and executive director of Organic Soup Kitchen in Santa Barbara, California, it was his own confrontation of personal economic possibilities that turned his attention to the homeless. “Not long ago, I was thinking about what to do with my life personally,” Carroccio told Organic Connections. “It was getting pretty grim because I noticed that there weren’t many jobs available and business opportunities were dwindling. I thought, ‘What’s the worst possible scenario that can happen to me?’ Luckily I’m not in a position to actually be homeless, but I started noticing a lot more homeless people out there.”
Carroccio made a few inquiries and discovered that there were some 6,000 homeless in Santa Barbara. He also found that most homeless people are not the panhandlers one sees on the corners—those are actually the minority. The majority are blending in with the rest of society, walking around pretending to be shopping and hanging around public restaurants, very ashamed of their conditions and doing their best to hide them.
“I woke up one morning at 3:00 a.m. and started really thinking about it,” Carroccio related. “I realized it was an epidemic that’s growing and not slowing down anytime soon. I then thought that if I’m aware of this situation, I’ve got to do something about it.”
Carroccio didn’t know how to get started, so he just went into action. He made a big pot of soup, brought it down to a park on a Sunday morning, and started ladling it out for anyone who needed it. He ended up doing this several times and made a decision for his life. “I decided this was it,” he said. “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to feed these people.”
Due to his background in natural health from the publishing of his magazine, and because he lived a natural existence, Carroccio also resolved that what he served would be organic. “I decided I was going to feed them organic food that’s low glycemic and anti-inflammatory, and that I was going to try and get them off the sugars and off the heavy processed carbs and all of the fat and so on. I decided to call it the Organic Soup Kitchen, because that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Once Carroccio got started, he was down in that same park serving soup every Sunday; but after a time, the local Health Department told him he couldn’t serve a large gathering of the homeless in a public place. So he quickly searched out and found a location from which he could operate—the Veterans Memorial Building, which let Carroccio use their kitchen.
In addition to having his space provided, the food has also been donated. “We work with the Farmers’ Market and every Saturday they just load us up with so much produce, it’s unbelievable,” Carroccio said. “Whole Foods has been wonderful to us too, plying us with breads, desserts and muffins. Peet’s Coffee supplies us with organic coffee, and we serve 400–500 cups of coffee every Sunday as well.”
Since he’s been in operation, his popularity has grown. “We started with about 85 people on Sundays and we’re now up to about 300,” said Carroccio. “During holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, we get as many as a thousand people. It’s quite an event. We have music and all types of bands, and we have quite a feast. We find volunteers coming from out of the woodwork.”
As a testament to the quality and the taste of his food, another local soup kitchen run by a famous charity finally shut down on Sundays because everyone was coming over to the Organic Soup Kitchen.
Now, due to its success, the Organic Soup Kitchen has outgrown the facility at the Veteran’s Memorial Building and is seeking donations to launch a fleet of mobile trucks to serve the homeless throughout the city.
During the time he has been running the kitchen, Carroccio has also worked with a non-profit medical organization, Doctors Without Walls, that treats the homeless. What he has learned there has reinforced his decision to be purely organic. “Most of the folks that we see on the street have diabetes because, number one, they are overweight,” he explained. “They are eating anything that they can, but these people are very fragile. When they go into a soup kitchen that’s feeding them conventional food, it looks nice and it smells good, but they’re eating meat that is puffed up with hormones, greasy fat that’s fried, and soup that has all this artificial flavoring and fat that is made out of chemicals. Eating conventional food, they—or anyone else for that matter—are consuming so many pesticides they’re breaking down their immune systems.”
Finally, Carroccio knows that feeding the homeless isn’t the total solution to the problem by any stretch—and so he is now implementing a program to help get them off the streets. “We’re putting together an educational program,” he said. “We’re going to start off with five people for a two-month session. Once they qualify for the program, they’ll come into the kitchen and I’ll give them hands-on training. They’ll also get some academic studies in which they’ll learn to how to pass the food handler’s test, so that they’re qualified in the state of California to be certified kitchen workers. At the end of eight weeks, they can walk out with a diploma from us and a certification from the state and hopefully it will help them get a job.”
To find out more about the Organic Soup Kitchen or to make a donation, visit their website at www.organicsoupkitchen.org.