Thrift stores sell a remarkably wide range of items, and now the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) thrift store in St. Catharines sells one more. In November 2022, the MCC Christian Benefit Shop started selling a range of frozen soups produced by Raw Carrot, an innovative social enterprise.
The Raw Carrot Soup Enterprise started in Paris, Ont. in 2014 when Rebecca Sherbino and Colleen Graham responded to a need they saw to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities who were reliant on social assistance. Employment opportunities for disabled people weren’t always welcoming, and often didn’t last long.
As Sherbino and Graham explain on the Raw Carrot website, their model is simple: “We use existing church kitchens, hire people on social assistance and create tasty gourmet soup.”
They started at the Paris Presbyterian Church, where they are still headquartered. Individuals from the Ontario Disability Support Program were hired to peel, prepare, cook and package handcrafted gourmet soups. Fresh ingredients were sourced as locally as possible and were free of added preservatives. The soup is made in small batches and sold frozen, packed full of vegetables, lentils and other legumes. Sales from the soups fund the salaries of those working in the kitchens.
Raw Carrot has expanded to four church kitchens including the one at Stirling Avenue Mennonite in Kitchener, which has been used since 2018. This was part of a partnership between Raw Carrot and MCC. In addition to use of the Stirling kitchen, Raw Carrot soups are sold at all six MCC thrift stores in Ontario (St. Catharines, Leamington, Kitchener, New Hamburg, Elmira and Stouffville).
Raw Carrot has provided employment for 32 people with disabilities and mental illness. Total sales in the 2021 fiscal year were over $160,000. These sales account for 80 percent of the organization’s income.
Currently, Raw Carrot soup choices include: Signature Carrot, Flying Noodle (chunky chicken noodle), Veggie Mania, Loaded Potato and Bacon, Hearty Lentil and Barley, Mulligatawny, and Spicy-ish Sausage and Cabbage. These soups are mindful of dietary considerations such as gluten free, vegetarian/vegan and keto-friendly.
To buy these soups is to help people find meaningful employment in a welcoming atmosphere.
Above: The co-founders of Raw Carrot share their vision in this video posted to YouTube in 2018.
Watch: Raw Carrot at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church