Demand for nonprofit Organic Soup Kitchen’s nutrient-dense soup has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 outbreak has made more people cognizant of maintaining a strong immune system, a demand that has caused its clients to more than double.
An increase in business of this sort would be challenging enough to handle under normal conditions, but due to social distancing needed to prevent further spreading of the virus, the soup kitchen has turned its groups of volunteers away to meet the challenge with just four cooks in the kitchen.
Those four individuals include the soup kitchen’s founder Anthony Carroccio and his wife Drea Carroccio. In an interview with the News-Press, the former stated that he and his skeletal staff of cooks has had to work “twice as hard” and “twice as much” due to the pandemic. In order to serve Organic Soup Kitchen’s now 450 clients and make donations for nonprofits such as Cottage Hospital and United Way, workdays now range between 12 and 15 hours long. Ordinarily, the soup kitchen would make one or two 120-gallon soup batches every week. That number has jumped to between 6 and 8 batches per week. Beyond providing safety to those in the kitchen by making sure social distancing can be practiced, the limited number of cooks is also meant to ensure that the containers of soup Organic Soup Kitchen delivers don’t carry any trace of the virus. Because the nonprofit often delivers soup to sick individuals, these precautions are imperative.
“We can’t chance that. Not with the kind of people we deliver to,” Mr. Carroccio said.
According to Mr. Carroccio, the COVID-19 situation hasn’t really changed the painstaking efforts Organic Soup Kitchen goes through to ensure high quality soup. The normal process it has always taken involves making its coconut milk-based soup at 160 degrees, dropping its temperature to 140 degrees, pumping the soup into 24-ounce BPA free containers, and hermetically sealing them so no outside pathogens can enter the soup. While he feels that the pressure to deliver an excellent product hasn’t changed, Mr. Carroccio remarked that the challenge now is producing that high-quality soup in a high quantity.
“We’re just concerned that we need more horsepower,” he said.
That said, the situation could be worse, if the nonprofit didn’t have the automatic kitchen equipment that it installed in its new kitchen about a year ago. Mr. Carroccio added that the high-powered equipment has been of great help in meeting the increased demand for soup, calling it “a godsend.”
On top of producing soup batches for an unprecedented demand, the COVID-19 crisis has also forced Organic Soup Kitchen to start spending money where it used to rely on donations. Of course, living up to its name, Organic Soup Kitchen makes its soups out of organic produce, which it used to get donated from local farmers looking to get rid of goods not sold at farmers markets that were just about to wilt. Since the COVID-19 outbreak caused those local sources of produce to dry up, Organic Soup Kitchen has started buying produce, which has gotten more expensive as of late.
“We are purchasing everything that we use and prices have gone through the roof,” Mr. Carroccio said.
As Organic Soup Kitchen’s expenses have increased, it, like many nonprofits, is looking for ways to maintain enough funding to keep operating. These include applying for grants from the City of Santa Barbara and family foundations around town. However, Mr. Carroccio finds that money from the latter is dwindling along with individual donations, as local residents remain out of work for long periods of time. Doing twice the work with little staff may be a hard task, but Mr. Carroccio is confident that Organic Soup Kitchen could fulfill its responsibilities to the community by making even more than it is now. It just needs more money coming in.
“We have more responsibility than ever. I just wish we had a whole lot more funding so we can quadruple our production,” he said.
However much the nonprofit manages to produce, Mr. Carroccio told the News-Press that it will keep being the task of just four people so long as COVID-19 is going around. Even when the increase in cases levels off, adding more volunteers to the kitchen while the pandemic is still going is not an option.
“It’s completely out of the question. As long as it’s a contagious virus, we will work around the clock to protect the integrity of our product,” he said.