To break bread is probably one of the oldest human traditions that continues to ignite the spirit of sharing. In the Christian faith, it is symbolic of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. To make bread is the activity that unites women who are participating in job training sessions offered by the House of Bread, a new non-profit in Roanoke.
The House of Bread was created in January 2017 to help formerly incarcerated women gain skills to strengthen their confidence and hope. Over the course of a six-week session, women learn new skills through hands on training in the Local Environmental Agricultural Project Kitchen (LEAP kitchen located in the West End) and gain spiritual development while baking and selling bread alongside volunteers from the community.
In addition to learning basic kitchen and baking skills, the women in the program receive ServSafe food handler training, develop marketing and customer service skills, and partner one-on-one with mentors who shepherd them through a job search and resume building process. The students are given a $50 weekly educational stipend and are expected to attend a weekly class and sell bread with the organization once a week. They meet weekly with their mentors. Each session culminates with the ServSafe certification exam and a mock interview clinic where students practice their interviewing skills and receive feedback. The first clinic was staffed by attorneys, business leaders, and people in the restaurant industry.
The inaugural session kicked off in October 2017. Most of the first session’s participants were chosen through Transitional Options for Women or Total Action for Progress. Six women began the program, and four graduated, all with ServSafe certifications. Alongside women from the community, the students learned how to bake a variety of breads and sold over 350 loaves, often selling out in an hour.
What was the recipe for this success? The baking skills honed at home and shared in the LEAP kitchen by Lisa Goad (co-founder), the organizational finesse of former teacher and current seminary student Jordan Hertz (co-founder), and the vision of licensed professional counselor and seminary student Jen Brothers (co-founder). Sprinkle in a handful of motivated students, passionate volunteers and mentors, wide-ranging community support, and generous funding from church grants and private donations, and House of Bread was born.
Brothers realistically anticipated some attrition, and it did happen in the case of one student, who relapsed after finding herself in an unsafe living situation. Her mentor did not give up, saying she wouldn’t leave her until she was ready to stand on her own two feet. She connected her mentee with resources to help her regain her footing and start a new job.
Currently in its second session, the House of Bread has big projects on the rise. Transitional Options for Women, a recent recipient of a Roanoke Women’s Foundation grant, will open a coffee shop this January on 13th Ave. It will be staffed by TOFW residents and House of Bread graduates. A former HOB student and current House Manager at TOFW will manage the shop. HOB plans to rent a space beside the coffee shop to host meetings, hold interviews, and allow for greater connectivity to the neighborhood and its residents.
Brothers wants to hold the graduates together in community and is currently working on organizing weekly “soup nights” where program graduates, volunteers, and friends come together to break bread and share in storytelling and prayers, with local ministers presiding over a simple round table Communion service.
House of Bread fills a unique niche in our community, offering hope to those who may have lost it along the way and the tools to rebuild a life and become a healthy and productive citizen. It also allows for the formation of friendships across neighborhood and socio-economic divides. House of Bread actively seeks volunteers, donations, and customers. To learn more about House of Bread please visit www.houseofbreadroanoke.com.
Written by Kate Ericsson