Bounty & Soul founder on organization's origins, personal struggles

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Ali Casparian, founder and executive director of Bounty & Soul, said the organization would not have come about had it not been for her own personal struggles.

Bounty & Soul founder and executive director Ali Casparian always knew she wanted to be in food.

She is the youngest of four sisters and said she grew up “very connected” with her Armenian grandparents. This is where she said she learned to love food.

From her landscaper grandfather, she learned that vegetables come from gardens. From her grandmother, she learned how to cook and how to be in a kitchen.

When it came time to go away to college, she said she told her parents she wanted to be a chef. Casparian said her parents did not like the idea, which she called a product of the time and not being able to see that someone could make a good living being a chef.

Casparian headed off to the Pennsylvanian Muhlenberg College where she said she changed her major multiple times trying to find her passion. In the end, she landed with a human resource management degree.

Her first job out of college was in a kitchen, putting together platters. She said her managers saw her potential and set her on a “fast track” to being a manager herself. She ended up working in the industry for 25 years in what she described as living a good life, but had given up her whole life for her job. She said she was lonely.

Life-changing event

She had already been married and divorced when she met a new partner that would set her life on a new path.

In 2011, Casparian spent months in the hospital and underwent many surgeries as a result of a violent assault at the hands of her domestic partner.

When she woke up in the hospital following her attack, Casparian said she knew she was different.

“All of a sudden everything seemed different in a good way,” Casparian said. “The flowers were brighter and the colors were brighter. The sounds were louder. I felt a deeper empathy.”

She said everyone she talked to said she should not have survived the assault and that surviving led her to believe there was “something greater” she was supposed to be doing in the world.

Having nothing left and fearing for her own safety and the safety of her family, Casparian said she moved to Raleigh to be with her sister.

Healing in the mountains

After six months in Raleigh, Casparian said she felt a “calling” to come to the mountains, despite never having been here. She had been told she would like it, so she packed up and made her way to Black Mountain.

Once she arrived, Casparian said she felt like she could heal in the mountains and moved here permanently. She lived in what described as a one-room “chicken coop” and cleaned houses to make money.

She said she was struggling to make ends meet and to find a community, so she turned to Welcome Table hosted at St. James Episcopal Church.

Here she found community and made connections that would lead to the creation of Bounty & Soul.

After becoming a volunteer at Welcome Table, Casparian found herself at a food bank. She said she saw a room full of fresh fruits and vegetables that were being given to a pig farmer because the food bank could not find anyone to take them.

Origin of Bounty & Soul

Casparian wanted to change this. She found someone with a truck who was willing to transport the produce from the food bank to Welcome Table where she set up the first iteration of Bounty & Soul: A single table set up where participants could take the produce they needed.

She said it was important for her that anyone who came to the table would feel welcome because, when looking for aid elsewhere, she did not always feel welcomed.

“I felt subhuman,” Casparian said. “I always had to prove that I was poor. … It was awful, and so what was important to me was that no matter what we did or what this would become, that everybody was welcome. Everybody would feel loved and accepted and included and they wouldn’t feel any shame.”

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She said the table quickly grew until she was told Welcome Table was closing its doors. Casparian said she knew this would leave a hole in the community that needed to be filled and she was not ready to give up on her program.

She needed a fiscal sponsor and found that support in Father Scott Oxford of St. James. She found other support, truck donations and someone who was able to help her understand what it would take to become a nonprofit.

Bounty & Soul incorporated in 2014.

“From the beginning and ‘til this day, people show up just at the right time for whatever we need,” Casparian said. “All these people came out of the woodwork to help.”

Changes and what's coming

Casparian said the entire organization developed organically. From her finding the produce at the food bank to participants asking for classes that would later become a part of the organization, she said everything has been community-led.

Bounty & Soul continued to serve the community until the pandemic hit in 2020, when it was forced to change operations. Previously, Casparian said they had been holding multiple markets a week at different locations. She said they tried to uphold these markets with a drive-thru model, but were quickly shut down because of the traffic backups caused by participants trying to get their food.

Bounty & Soul provides healthy food to approximately 850 families per week.

She said she was able to get in contact with the owners of the Bi-Lo lot and was able to work out a deal to hold the drive-thru market that exists today.

Bounty & Soul currently serves 850 families per week at a drive-thru market in the old Bi-Lo parking lot. Casparian said not only is the organization looking to go back to in-person markets this spring, but also is looking for a space to hold a wellness hub for markets and classes that can be used as a center for the entire community.

Casparian continues to work for Bounty & Soul and said while she would not wish what she went through on anyone, she knows she would not be where she is without it.

“If that didn’t happen … I wouldn’t be sitting here and I wouldn’t be loved in the way I am loved and be able to offer and work within the community the way we work together collectively, which has been the greatest gift of my life,” Casparian said. “It all worked out and is working out just the way it’s supposed to.”

Karrigan Monk is the community reporter for Black Mountain News.