“Many were struggling close to the poverty line”
The Raw Carrot is stirring up change in local communities by making delicious, handcrafted gourmet soup.
Opened five years ago, this unique social franchise helps people all around southern Ontario meet more than their basic needs to live and gives them a sense of belonging.
“We could see that some people in our community were struggling. (Even after their disability cheques) there was nothing for them — nothing that was getting them out of the house for the day and giving them something meaningful,” said Rebecca Sherbino, co-founder of the Raw Carrot.
“They were struggling to (meet) their basic needs, so not being able to purchase fresh food and winter boots, and coats and things. They were accessing the church for those things. The church generally provides crisis intervention, but that was becoming more than just once or twice a year,” she said.
Sherbino said it was becoming a monthly need to access that fund and many were struggling close to the poverty line.
Something had to give.
There were job opportunities at big chains like McDonald’s and Tim Hortons but it was hard for some people who didn’t have the best social skills to work in those fast-paced environments.
“There wasn’t a middle workplace environment where they could be successful. So that was why we started,” Sherbino said proudly.
They sell eight different types of soup in three different sizes – a gourmet-to-go meal (375 ml), a three-serving small pouch (750 ml) and a six-serving large pouch (1500 ml).
Their soups include signature carrot, flying noodle (chunky chicken noodle), veggie mania, loaded potato and bacon, hearty lentil and barley, mulligatawny (a curry-like soup), spicy-ish sausage and cabbage, and kale and navy bean. Their retail partners only sell the 750 ml size of soup, while their kitchen locations sell every size.
In the last five years, they have opened four locations; Kitchener, Mount Forest, Paris and Woodstock. They also sell at local markets and chains like Farm Boy and Foodland. The whole business is run in partnership with churches — and that overwhelming amount of support helped them get their feet off the ground.
From meeting with government officials to marketing and website development, Sherbino is quite the busy woman. She is always touching base with their locations to ensure they have every little thing they need to keep business booming.
Before creating impact locally through the food industry, Sherbino was making impacts internationally. She spent five years doing charity work in Sudan and Malawi, Africa with the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
She and her business partner Colleen Graham, started The Raw Carrot with no backup plan. They believed with the help of the church everything would fall into place.
“We started it as an ‘off the side of our desks project,’ and when we saw that it was something that we thought was going to work, I mean at some point you need to take that leap of faith,” said Sherbino.
They saw great success in their first year, despite some competitors like Happy Planet Foods, but that is more of a business perspective.
“Our program is to employ marginalized people. I wouldn’t say there is a lot of competition for that. There are a million people in Ontario living on disability, you know social assistance. There’s a total lack of opportunities for those types of people to find employment,” she said.
According to Sherbino, they are the only ones who are “serving up” an impact via soup.
She has thrown her whole being into their cause. Even when times were tough and they didn’t think the business would make it, they trusted that God would show them the way.
“At times, we have had to work literally with no paycheque because I totally believe in what we are doing,” she said.
Compared to other charity efforts, Sherbino believes that they are digging deeper in certain ways than any other charity.
“I’ve seen a lot of programs that have an impact that only go an inch deep — that’s good, but it’s not enough.”
Their impact is what is different, it’s not just a cause — it’s “a sheer impact on their (employee’s) life.” They may only have 26 full-time employees who receive disability pensions but they affect their staff more than they ever thought they would.
Lori Nason of Paris, Ont., has 54 years of wisdom under her belt. She has been a team member at The Raw Carrot ever since they started. She is a sweet lady with a “soup-endous” smile. From peeling to spicing, she does a lot around the kitchen and in the church’s children’s ministries. She finds that there is a real connection with her colleagues and everyone helps each other thrive.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere,” said Nason. “Everyone who works for The Raw Carrot is like a big family. Everyone gets along with everyone, we help each other.”
When it comes to the best thing about the business Sherbino said it’s seeing her employees thrive and overcome their disabilities.
“The best part is when I go into any one of our four kitchens and I see these people who maybe had been capsized by society … or considered not capable of work and I see them working, thriving and having a great time with their colleagues,” she said.
“It totally makes it worth it.”