It is such a simple thing, bread. Yet as Jesus showed us, it can be the foundation of life.
At Mass, we celebrate communion, as Jesus commanded us, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”
Once a month Mary, Mother of the Church volunteers sell bread, rolls and pastries after Mass. These items are made by Bridge Bread bakery. What makes this bakery unique is that the bakers come from a section of life most of us would find alien — they have been homeless.
Pat Tobin, Mary, Mother social commission director, learned of Bridge Bread Bakery and asked the Parish Council for permission to sell the bread after Masses. Sales from Mary, Mother average $1,200 to $1,500 a month. All of this money goes back to Bridge Bread to pay for salaries and ingredients.
How do we get from Jesus and his command to “do this in memory of me” to a bakery composed of homeless bakers? It started with a dream. Fred Domke and his wife Sharon were volunteers once a month at The Bridge — an outreach organization working with the homeless.
One weekend Fred decided to try his hand at baking bread. “I baked bread, two loaves, for the first time in my life. That night I went to bed and dreamed that I was making bread with people at the shelter. The next day I went to the shelter and asked if anyone wanted to make bread.” Four guests came to the kitchen and Fred and Sharon taught them how to bake bread. This was in September, 2011.
They baked and sold the products at Fred’s church starting that Labor Day weekend. Two months later, Daryl Pitchford walked into the kitchen. Daryl had been living on the streets. Daryl learned quickly and worked his way up to supervisor and finally manager at the current store, at 2639 Cherokee Street. Significantly, he became a member of the Board of Directors.
In 2014 the bakery entered and won the annual Washington University Social Enterprises Innovation Competition. First prize was a $30,000 grant presented by Sister Joan Kuester of the Daughters of Charity. Now Catholic churches provide over half of religious sales.
Bridge Bread also supplies dinner rolls on a weekly basis to the Chase Park Plaza. They operate a booth at the weekly Farmers Market in Tower Grove Park. Parker Condie, of John Allan Love Charitable Foundation, donated money to purchase and refurbish a truck, which was converted to a mobile bakeshop. This truck makes deliveries once or twice a week to businesses, churches and any organization that has a parking lot. This is all done by invitation. As Fred mentioned, “Anyone can invite us.”
Another standing order: 150 cinnamon rolls every week throughout the school year at St. Louis University for “Java with the Jesuits.”
The store closes only one week a year. It has baked over half a million loaves in the last seven years.
Fred sees his goal as simple. “God asked me to help. I want to make it easier for them to be not homeless. We are here to lift them up. Give them dignity, knowing they have earned every dollar. These bakers can use these skills to bake their way out of poverty, enhance their self-worth, and enable them to help themselves.”
This program is a doorway to a more substantial future. The trainees can stay as long as they want. They open a bank account, pay taxes, pay child support, obtain an I.D., receive free dental care from Dr. Aaron Cregger and live in housing from HomeFirst STL. Equally important, the bakers learn about cooperation and trust, as well as how to return to living in mainstream society.
On May 2, 2019, after a prolonged battle with cancer, Daryl died. Fred noted that Daryl had mentored, trained, and taken every one of the bakers into his life. “He was very much loved by a zillion people. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Anita Anton has a Ph.D. in educational studies from St. Louis University and lives in south St. Louis County, where she is a member of Mary, Mother of the Church parish. She is a regular Faith Perspectives contributor on STLtoday.com/religion.