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St. Francis Catholic Kitchen
& Jesus Mary Joseph Home
Established in 1982, St. Francis Catholic Kitchen & Jesus Mary Joseph Home is a tax-deductible 501c3 charitable non-profit organization in California.
In the early 1980’s, when offering basic services to care for homeless people was a radical idea in Santa Cruz, Peter Carota had a vision to do just that. Not yet ordained a Roman Catholic priest, he started caring for the needy by serving sandwiches around town from the back of a long, white van. On the sides of his van, Peter lettered the words “St. Francis Catholic Kitchen” and added a painted image of St. Francis of Assisi feeding the birds.
In Wayne Shaffer, a Santa Cruz realtor like himself, Peter Carota found a like-minded collaborator. The two realtors looked around for a permanent home in which to run a soup kitchen with a dining hall. In 1984, their dream came true. Near River Street, they found an old automotive repair shop for sale on Mora St, right next to the railroad tracks and down the hill from Holy Cross Catholic Church.
To finance the purchase and the remodeling, Peter the realtor sold his own home and investment properties, then donated the proceeds to a brand-new non-profit charitable organization named St. Francis Catholic Kitchen. In addition to Wayne Shaffer, early non-profit volunteers included Beatrice Easter, Harriet Jacoff, Lee Laboa, Charlie Heil, Tom Martin, Mary Helen Tafoya, Cy Udall, Theresa Udall, and many others.
In 1989, Peter Carota purchased and donated a house to serve as an emergency shelter. Located on the west side of Santa Cruz, Jesus Mary Joseph Home is now a transitional shelter for homeless women and children.
Father Peter Carota (1948-2016)
“I founded St. Francis Catholic Kitchen to show the community of Santa Cruz what it meant for me to act as a Catholic Christian by helping the poor. My goal was not just to feed, clothe and shelter the poor, but also to heal their brokenness through bringing them to Jesus and His Church. It was prayer that sustained our work and reminded us to do it with love.” — Fr. Peter Carota, quoted in 2009
Father Peter was born in Santa Cruz on November 15, 1948. His remarkable and devout parents, Mario and Estelle, raised a family of 19 children, including 11 foster children. At one time, the family owned a bus which was used on family trips.
The late Mario Carota taught his sons how to build and remodel houses. As the family grew, they worked together to construct additional bedrooms and living space to accommodate everyone.
Fr. Peter attended Watsonville High School. After graduating from Carlton University in Ontario, Canada, he worked as a realtor in Santa Cruz. In the 1980’s, he sold everything, founded the St. Francis Catholic Kitchen nonprofit, and purchased two properties for the soup kitchen and the Jesus Mary Joseph Home.
Following priestly ordination in 1997, he was pastor and assistant pastor at numerous churches in California and Arizona, and even built a church, the Chapel of the Holy Angels in Ripon, CA, where he is now buried.
At various times, Fr. Peter did missionary work in Mexico and Brazil and maintained an Internet blog at TraditionalCatholicPriest.com In 2016, Fr. Peter Carota went home to Jesus in Escalon, CA where he had served for 10 years as pastor of St. Patrick’s Church. He was 67 years old.