Every mission has its origin story. This is ours.
Between the low hum of an overly electronic classroom, the incessant tap-tap-clapping of fingers pecking at computer keys, and the academic voice articulating an introductory history of human rights, my ears strained for something engaging to hold my mind’s wanderlusting attention. Staring at the scrawl written upon lined paper in a fresh notebook, my attention broke through my ears’ stronghold grasp and sauntered off to thoughts that belong only to the other side of the glass wall of that Venable basement classroom.
My hand doodled freely in the margins, leaving room for notes just in case my mind decided to return to being a student. As always, my hand found it’s way back to the one sketch I’d been doodling for over a year – a blue teardrop with a white heart in the center, the flaming lovedrop from my church’s logo.
As I traced the muscle-memorized teardrop form, my mind fell to the worries of my senior-self – that ever-pressing question: ” What am I going to do with my life?” Flipping through different career paths as though they were business cards on a rolodex, I searched for one that fit me. I knew definitely not business, not research, not health profession, not policy, not, not, not. Probably nonprofit work, but what did that even mean? All I knew was that I was passionate about social justice and I wanted to continue to work with communities experiencing poverty. I just assumed that meant working for a nonprofit. My thoughts suddenly were reminded of a question posed over the summer, “What if nonprofit work falls through? Then what will you do?” It was a valid question, just one I was too afraid of thinking about. My answer to this serious question, “Start up a bakery in Chapel Hill with Annika.”
Now let me be clear, the most I had ever baked were box brownies. Annika baked all summer-long. Really, the only thing I brought to this venture was moral support. So the running joke that summer was, Annika and Allison are going to start a bakery in Chapel Hill if all else fails.
As my mind lingered with that joke, suddenly a small seed was planted, a pipe-dream placed in my heart. It started with two words. Two words that changed everything (and continue to do so). Two words that give life and breath and meaning to every dreamer out there: what if. What if started a fool’s hope – a driving desire that I would follow for years to come, changing life as I knew it. “What if that bakery was more than just a bakery. What if it provided job-training and helped people find, obtain, and maintain employment, lowering the barriers that prevent individuals from getting a job. What if it connected folks to the services they needed, addressing all of their needs, not just one need at a time. What if we started a transitional-employment bakery in Chapel Hill.”
My pen found new life as I huddled close to the notebook, frantically drafting a blueprint for the concept, trying to capture it before the fleeting thought blew away. This was too important for the margins, forget the possibility for notes! My pen moved to the middle of the page and joyfully marked across the notebook paper. I thought of funding sources and activities, sketched out possible lay-outs for a community center to house all of the activities, creating the model that would inspire an organization in years to come.
It would be a folk-revival in baked form. Breads and desserts that harken back to a simpler time when food was made of real ingredients and people cared for their neighbor, their community. A place that believed in the dignity of every human being, and acted in a way that reflected that belief. An organization that wasn’t afraid to talk about faith and religion – that saw the whole person and used all of their strengths to empower them to make the changes they wished to make. A church-based project that doesn’t try to convert folks, but simply wants to share their experiences and learn from others’ experiences, working together to make the world a little more just. A bakery that created baked goods with care and empowered folks in their pursuits for freedom from poverty. What to call a unique bakery like this? Made With Love kept repeating in my head and my heart, like an anthem or battle cry. The layers of meaning and history captured the essence of who we would become, the extract of the organization in a simple name. The old Southern saying reminding me of my grandmother’s pound cake or my mom’s homemade bread. It also strikes at the heart of the belief that each individual is invaluable and should be treated like they matter. Finally, that lovedrop from the church’s logo came back again; this time it took on new meaning, new life. In my mind’s eye, all I could think of was an old wooden sign hanging from a wrought iron scroll bracket above a bakery on Franklin Street. My scrawl could never do it justice, but at least it was a start.
But like all fires, that flame burned out. A small doubt emerged from the flurry of activity. That doubt grew like a weed. Doubt to a hope is like dirt to a flame, smothering any chance of it growing into a sustainable campfire. What was that doubt, you ask? It was simply, “Ha! What an impossible idea.”, which grew into “I know nothing of baking. I know nothing of business. I know nothing of transitional employment. It is laughable to even think about ever doing something like this.” Just as quickly as it came to life, the dream died.
My mind returned from its wanderlusting adventures, back to the mundane tasks of a student listening to an introductory lecture. My hand returned to the middle section, skipped a line, and returned to the typewriter-style, line-by-line, pedestrian note taking that poisons the imagination.
While it seemed that the fire behind Made With Love Bakery had completely burned out, white-hot embers still remained. Something changed that day. Somewhere between the Cold War and Universalism, my heart was strangely warmed with the mere thought of a faith-based transitional employment bakery working with unemployed individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Those Aldersgate embers set my heart on fire with the promise of a dream. Within a week, I had no idea how, but I just knew this was what I was doing with my life.
Since that fateful day three years ago, I've been working, night and day, towards launching Made With Love Bakery. My mother taught me how to bake from handwritten recipe cards stained with generations of spills. Not long after, I was developing my own recipes, baking by faith until I understood those innate rules of adjustments and substitutions that dictate the science and art of baking. To learn about transitional employment, nonprofit management, and working with marginalized populations, I attended the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill. While in graduate school, I tested assumptions, planned out the program and business, and, somewhere along the way, unofficially started Made With Love Bakery. Just like dough needs to proof to become bread, none of this would have been possible without the community of supporters that have risen around me - committing time, energy, skills, and money to support this vision. Today we are bread about to be placed into an oven, on the cusp of becoming a finished product. All we need is an inspected kitchen so that we can officially launch Made With Love Bakery and start opening opportunities for a second chance at employment. You can help us get there by donating today.