SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — For the past 11 years, the Organic Soup Kitchen has been a vital asset to the Santa Barbara community.
While serving nutrient-dense soups, the nonprofit aims to eliminate food insecurity for vulnerable, low-income neighbors and seniors struggling to fight the impacts of cancer and chronic illnesses.
Now more than ever before the soup kitchen is helping the entire community push through difficult times.
As most people take extra precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the nonprofit has experienced a significant surge in demand.
"People don't feel comfortable leaving their homes,” Organic Soup Kitchen board member Cheryl Giefer said. “When they found the soup kitchen, it's given them the opportunity to still have great homemade meals.”
Prior to the pandemic, the soup kitchen was producing one or two 120-gallon soup batches each week.
Nowadays, it's averaging six to eight batches every week.
"We've pretty much doubled to tripled our increase of intake of soup for clients, community members and nonprofit partners,” Organic Soup Kitchen chief operations officer Andrea Carroccio said.
This is even more difficult considering the fact that the nonprofit has temporarily stopped new volunteers from working in their kitchen as a result of practicing proper physical distancing.
"We're not allowing any new volunteers into our space right now because of our immune compromised clients,” Carroccio said.
This has left only a handful of cooks producing more soup than ever before while sometimes working 12-15 hour shifts.
"Tuesdays we make the soup, Wednesdays we deliver and then Mondays we've been prepping,” Carroccio said. “It's been more challenging because Mondays are longer days for us because of the prepping with less staff and less volunteers."
However, the few volunteers left remain dedicated to helping those in need.
"Whatever the need is, we show up,” Giefer said. “You tell me and I'm there."
Although people must stay apart to remain safe for the time being, the soup remains a symbol of better times to come.
"You share a common bond when you eat with someone, so we're not physically present to be there but spiritually and physically the soup is there,” Carroccio concluded. “I think that just keeps them going, gives our clients hope."
Since 2009, the Organic Soup Kitchen has served over a million meals to clients in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Summerland, Carpinteria and the Santa Ynez Valley.