Since 2000 The Bread Project has helped hundreds of unemployed and underemployed Bay Area adults find their way to self-sufficiency through their culinary and job readiness classes, which include baking classes (in commercial-sized kitchens in Oakland and Berkeley), life skills and job readiness classes in adjacent classrooms, lectures by volunteer guests from various aspects of the food industry, and off-site tours of local bakeries. Students also get hands-on experience stocking and running a bakery café housed in the Berkeley Adult School, across the Bay from San Francisco.
The Bread Project targets Bay Area residents who face one or more barriers to employment. Past trainees have included ex-felons, parolees, recovering addicts, homeless people, at-risk youth, individuals with developmental challenges, dislocated and unemployed workers, welfare recipients, and single parents. People hear about the program through the Project’s aggressive outreach efforts to social workers, drug counselors, and churches, and through friends who have already gone through the program. In addition, the Project’s student recruiter and program graduate Ray Washington gives many presentations about the classes at offices of the state Employment Development Department offices. Ray is typical of a number of former students who have chosen to return to support the program.
Of the 113 students who enrolled with The Bread Project following Rex’s grant in late 2000, 97 trainees successfully graduated with the necessary skills to obtain entry-level jobs as bakers and cooks, with 79% now employed.
The Rex Foundation grant helped cover the training costs of two individuals and the follow-up services of another two graduates between July 2007 and July 2008.
With the support of Rex and other community organizations, businesses and individuals in the San Francisco Bay area, the Project has been so successful that it’s currently forced to turn away nearly half of qualified applicants. In response to this unmet need, Dagmar Schroeder-Huse, the Project’s energetic Executive Director, announced in December 2009 plans to move the baking program into a much larger facility. The Project will keep the current kitchen in Berkeley, which will focus on “café” food preparation and management skills. She also hopes to use the new space (with lease costs subsidized by another Bread Project supporter, Semifreddi’s Bakery in nearby Emeryville) as a collaborative center for culinary-related nonprofits, or as an incubator for small business startups.
Recently, Dagmar shared with us these students’ success stories:
Nyasha O., 24, was receiving unemployment insurance after losing her administrative job when she joined our Oakland class in March of 2008. Nyasha always had a passion for cooking, but needed experience before she could work in the culinary field and pursue her dream of opening a catering company. After graduating from our program, she secured employment as a Pantry Cook at Miss Pearl’s Jam House in Oakland, CA. She thanks The Bread Project for putting her on the pathway toward fulfilling her ambition. She has also gained a great deal of confidence. “I’m constantly improving my speed and ability to adapt to situations in the kitchen. I’m proud of myself and the steps that I’ve made.”
Margarita F., 24, was hired at Safeway right after graduating from The Bread Project. She worked there for two months as a baker until she found another job with potential for management. After two months working with Prime Time Nutrition, Margarita was promoted to manager. She states, “I have been here a month now as a manager and I love my job. So again, thank you so much for your help. I couldn’t have gotten where I am now if it wasn’t for the program.”
Eloisa R., 27, a native Spanish speaker, faced many challenges when she joined our program. She had undergone two heart operations in October and November 2007 for an implanted closure device. She was also separated from her husband and has two young sons aged 10 and 3. Her greatest challenge, however, was overcoming the depression she fell into after her surgery, when she had spent many months at home recovering. She enrolled in The bread Project, and despite her poor health and limited English skills, she excelled in the program with great attendance, a warm spirit, and a can-do attitude. Though she had looked very tired and delicate at her admission interview, by her July 2008 graduation, she was radiant and energetic, and there was no longer any sign of depression. She obtained a Baker/Cake Decorator job at a Safeway store, earning 40 percent more per month than while she was on CalWORKS.
Kenneth H., 39, had been addicted to methamphetamines for nearly 20 years, until he decided to change his life in 2008. He was referred to The Bread Project by St. Anthony Foundation, a residential alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility in San Francisco. While in the program, he learned to balance the stresses of working with other people with his own recovery process, learning patience and problem-solving skills. He is currently working as a paid security officer at St. Anthony’s Foundation and is volunteering in the kitchen during his free time to give back to others in need.
Tito J., 37, had been incarcerated several times for drug-related offenses. In 2008, Tito’s parole officer, who saw his interest in culinary arts and commitment to make positive changes in his life, made a referral to The Bread Project. While in the program, he demonstrated a high level of maturity and successfully graduated. The Bread Project was so impressed by his performance that he was hired as an intern. Now as our Kitchen Coordinator & Production Manager, he assists with the training, manages high-volume food contracts with the Berkeley Unified School District, and coordinates our kitchen facilities.