New and impressive restaurants pop up every fall in Santa Barbara. The Isla Vista Soup Kitchen is not one of those restaurants. Established this year by the AS Food Bank, the Isla Vista Soup Kitchen lacks the tasteful, festive atmosphere that other Santa Barbara soup kitchens conjure with their Thanksgiving dinner.
The smells of urine and cranberry sauce linger in the doorway. I must stand in a long line to enter because mandatory Breathalyzer tests are being administered by off-duty CSO volunteers. Third-year sociology major Audrey Hall waits by the door, accepting donations.
“It smells like piss because [the patrons of the IV soup kitchen], piss right outside,” Hall says. “They’re basically conditioned to pee in public. There’s really nothing we can do about it.”
Hall stands with bags of empty aluminum cans. These collected cans are used to fund the dinner; most are confiscated from the people in line.
Once finally inside the establishment, I am unimpressed by the decorations. No giant ice sculptures of turkeys adorn the entryway and not every table has a centerpiece. Painted hand turkeys pepper the wall like blemishes, colored and designed sporadically by Mrs. Karr’s 2nd grade class. A truly pathetic display of this nation’s beloved day of thanks.
The food is served buffet style. Reminiscent of breakfast, the turkey is turkey bacon, the mashed potatoes are hash browns (still frozen) and the berry cobbler is a box of generic cherry pop-tarts (Made with Real Fruit. The meal does not outright disgust me, but the customer service is lackluster. The servers distribute portions and courtesy frugally, and I hear not one “Happy Thanksgiving!” or compliment on my homemade pilgrim costume. In fact, nobody dresses up for the occasion. The sight of the crowd is, in a word, bleak.
I do not recommend the Thanksgiving dinner at the Isla Vista Soup Kitchen to anyone who has ever been to an actual restaurant. If you find yourself without a way home this Thanksgiving, consider yourself not homeless but rather in the equally compromising position of calling Domino’s, splurging on extra toppings, and giving thanks that you’ve given yourself the gift of delivery.