In the bitter cold of a Canadian winter, there is nothing better than a bowl of hot, delicious soup made by people with a passion for their work.
Nicholas is one of these people.
MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara
Nicholas, in his late 20s, is tall and quiet with a shy smile that appears more often as he gets comfortable. He’s wearing an apron and a hairnet, having just stepped out of the kitchen to talk. He was one of the first employees of the Raw Carrot in Kitchener, which was started in spring, 2018. The Raw Carrot is a non-profit social enterprise that uses artisan soupmaking as a way to create meaningful employment for individuals on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The Kitchener operation is a partnership between MCC Ontario, The Raw Carrot and Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, where the commercial kitchen is used to make the soup.
“Everyone is really friendly here. They accommodate me and the other employees,” Nicholas reflects. “I’ve had some jobs where I wasn’t respected and it wasn’t a very inviting atmosphere. And that’s the big difference here – there is a lot of respect in the workplace.”
That welcoming atmosphere is created in large part by Jenn Klassen, who manages the Kitchener operation. This location includes five paid staff and a rotating crew of volunteers who help with the chopping, dicing and cooking of vegetables.
“Jenn is a really hard worker and it feels like a tight-knit group,” says Nicholas. “Everybody’s got a purpose and role to play.”
MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara
Klassen says she recognizes that the whole of this operation is greater than the sum of its parts.
“In some ways, it’s such a simple thing to chop vegetables and follow a recipe, but to be able to produce a delicious meal for others to enjoy is so gratifying,” she says. “And the friendships that are formed around the kitchen are definitely a huge part of it, too.”
For Nicholas, having a role to play reminds him of the value of having work, something he has struggled with in his adult life. As a young teenager, he was the first of his peers to get a job—a dishwasher at a bar.
“There were a lot of things wrong with that job, but I remember I just wanted to be responsible with my money," he said. "I remember being motivated. I liked the opportunity to move up the ladder. Maybe if I worked hard enough I could be a prep chef, you know, maybe there would be future opportunities.”
MCC photo/Ken Ogasawara
His journey up the ladder was interrupted in his early 20s when he was diagnosed with a mental illness—something it took him a long time to come to terms with.
“It was the most difficult period of my life,” Nicholas says. “[It was tough] accepting myself and understanding that I would have schizophrenia for the rest of my life.”
The challenges that came with that diagnosis made it difficult for Nicholas to hold down a job and forced him to drop out of college. Eventually, Nicholas found an opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen at the Working Centre in downtown Kitchener.
While there, he was occasionally asked why he didn’t try to find a job as a cook instead of just volunteering. Nicholas would respond, “I do it because I want to contribute. I do it because I want meaning in my life. And I want to share that with people.”
Fast forward to the present day and Nicholas is doing just that—contributing in a meaningful way and getting paid.
Nicholas is now setting goals for his short- and long-term future.
“MCC is helping me. School is going to cost some money and I’m glad that I can make a living wage,” he said.
For now, Nicholas is set on helping The Raw Carrot succeed. To that end, he is right on track.
Soup sales, production and staff numbers are all up as Nicholas, Jenn and the rest of the team increase their efficiency and productivity. To date, one of the team’s biggest events was catering lunch for more than 350 people at MCC Ontario’s annual Peace Conference in November 2019, producing some 800 cups of soup for the day.
As Nicholas prepares to head back to the kitchen, he says something that sums up the spirit of The Raw Carrot: “Everyone should have a place and time to contribute to society.” And the contribution of healthy, delicious soup benefits all who give it a try.
The Raw Carrot’s gourmet soups can be purchased at these retailers in Kitchener and Waterloo: Thrift on Kent, Central Fresh Market, Chelsea Market, Farm Boy, Full Circle Foods, Herrles Country Farm Market, and Vincenzo's.
Anyone interested in organizing soup sales in their workplace, place of worship or with a community group can contact Jenn Klassen, MCC Raw Carrot Site Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the Raw Carrot can be found at therawcarrot.com.
The Kitchener Raw Carrot is grateful for funding support from the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation, Kindred Credit Union, MCC Canada and Groupe Convex.