Eat well, do good: Bread for the People makes giving back delicious

Why We Wrote This

It’s the simple pleasures that mean the most in our cooped-up lives right now. Two women in Austin, Texas, have turned their love of baking bread into a way to give back to their community, and help others give joy.

Henry Gass/The Christian Science Monitor
Libbey Goldberg (left) and Sarah Stevens have been baking and delivering bread around Austin, Texas in exchange for donations to support groups affected by COVID-19. As of early June, their project, Bread for the People, has raised more than $6,600.

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Sarah Stevens sits two rooms over from 12 mahogany loaves of sourdough, cooling by a window. There’s a magical sound to bread cooling, she explains – with a dozen, it’s like a small rainstorm.

By now, Ms. Stevens and her partner, Libbey Goldberg, are accustomed to the sound. Since late March, the duo have been baking and delivering sourdough rounds across Austin, raising money for charities fighting the effects of the pandemic, like hunger and job loss. That’s on top of their jobs as personal chefs, and caring for their 3- and 9-year-olds. 

They emphasize that they’re one of many small projects trying to give back right now, at a time when governments across the world are straining to respond. 

“We look at this as a people’s project,” says Ms. Stevens. “People are showing up for the community, buying loaves for each other, sharing with friends. It’s about kindness and generosity and helping that spread.”

And as long as there’s need, they plan to keep baking.

“I never imagined that people could be so excited about this very basic thing – bread,” says Ms. Stevens. There’s “that moment of joy and connection in a world that seems to see such a deep lack of joy right now.”

Sarah Stevens woke up in late March nervous, but ready. The coronavirus was spreading, and her community in Austin, Texas, was preparing to shelter in place. Already her two children were home from school and she and her partner were trying to juggle child care with their work as personal chefs. But Sarah had an idea she couldn’t kick: Bread. Beautiful, hand-crafted, aromatic sourdough bread that didn’t just stare people in the face on Instagram, but awaited them on their front porch and comforted their families. 

“I’m a person who can spend years toying with an idea and let the moment pass by,” she says. This was the first time in her life she knew she had to take action, she says, sitting two rooms over from 12 mahogany loaves of sourdough, cooling by a window and awaiting delivery.

Since late March, Ms. Stevens and her partner, Libbey Goldberg, have been baking and distributing sourdough rounds across Austin, raising money for charities fighting the effects of the pandemic, like hunger and job loss. It was an ambitious plan to throw on top of already long days with a 3- and 9-year-old in the house, but Ms. Stevens finds joy and solace in baking and wanted to share that with others – along with making it easier for people to donate.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

They call it Bread for the People, and the model is simple. (Ms. Stevens calls it “flying by the seat of our pants.”) She bakes 12 loaves of bread six days a week – starting before breakfast and finishing long after the kids are in bed. There’s barely room in their refrigerator for their own staples, as the bread chills in baskets overnight. For a suggested $10 each, the family and volunteers deliver loaves to all corners of the city – and donate all the proceeds to charity.

“We look at this as a people’s project,” says Ms. Stevens. “People are showing up for the community, buying loaves for each other, sharing with friends. It’s about kindness and generosity and helping that spread.”

As of early June, Bread for the People has baked 430 rounds and raised $6,644 for local charities, like El Buen Samaritano, and national organizations, like the National Domestic Workers Alliance. As national protests sparked by George Floyd’s death swept the U.S., they pivoted to include support for organizations like the Austin Justice Coalition, recognizing that the pandemic and police violence affect many of the same communities hardest.

Jody Horton
Sourdough bread made by hand, and often delivered as a surprise in exchange for donations, became the model for Bread for the People in Austin, Texas.

While Ms. Stevens does the bulk of the baking, Ms. Goldberg helps vet and choose organizations, drawing on her experience as an activist. “We try to make sure the funds are going toward the demographics most affected by COVID-19,” she says, like people of color, unauthorized immigrants, or impoverished communities.

They emphasize that they’re one of many small projects trying to give back right now. At a time when governments across the world are straining to respond, individuals are stepping up to support their communities.

Julian Choi, a partner with seafood wholesaler Minamoto Foods, started an initiative to feed unemployed service industry workers when the coronavirus shuttered restaurants. By early May, he was getting upward of 700 requests for meals each week. Most of his initial donations had already petered out. Enter Bread for the People. Their donation of $185 allowed Mr. Choi’s Family Meal project to provide an additional 80 meals.

“It was a blessing for them to come in when they did. It was our most desperate moment,” he says.

Loaf love

Ms. Stevens studied journalism in college, but graduated into a weak economy. Unable to find a job, she started working in a bakery, and met Ms. Goldberg while working in a restaurant.

“From the beginning I liked it, and slowly I began to love it,” she says of baking. She went on to work as a copy editor, where she found herself in a cubicle, often dreaming about bread.

“To be able to come back to baking in this moment feels really natural, despite being in the midst of a really terrible time,” she says. Bread for the People allows Ms. Stevens to nurture and feed people, which she considers a pillar of humanity. “It’s just spectacular to ring someone’s doorbell and say, ‘Your friend or your daughter ordered you a loaf and here it is,’” she says, tearing up.

Lori Levy, a neighbor turned delivery volunteer, wasn’t surprised by Ms. Stevens and Ms. Goldberg’s latest project. She’s stopped by their bake sales over the years, benefiting causes like local food pantries. “This is just who they are,” she says.

Ms. Stevens turns on the oven at 7 a.m., and doesn’t put the next day’s batch in the fridge till 9 p.m., but this isn’t a chore.

“There are so many bright spots,” she says. Her daughter helps with delivery. Her son “helps” by taste-testing. She bakes with a cast-iron pot, and has to take the top off halfway through to let the bread rise. “I do that 8-12 times every morning, and I get a new beautiful moment every time, just seeing the bread transform.”

The delivery is a treat as well, at a time when no one is really expecting to have their doorbell ring, or see a stranger standing on the sidewalk, ready to explain what’s in the mystery bag on the front porch.

“I never imagined that people could be so excited about this very basic thing – bread,” says Ms. Stevens. There’s “that moment of joy and connection in a world that seems to see such a deep lack of joy right now.”

Anne Hebert, who received a surprise loaf of bread from a friend and went on to place orders for others, says the model helps facilitate giving when the world feels overwhelming. “It’s almost easier to just say yes to a loaf of bread and share another one than to try and navigate the greater picture of today and figure out ‘What can I do to help,’” she says.

Hands-on giving

Flour and yeast have been tough to find, as a baking trend took off amid stay-at-home orders. Those who have been able to remain at home during the pandemic seem to be focusing on trying to enjoy simple pleasures and creating connections, Ms. Goldberg says. “There’s nothing simpler and more pleasurable than bread and butter.”

Fellow bakers have arranged for wholesale pricing on some of their materials, and the locally run Barton Springs Mill donated 125 pounds of flour to Bread for the People. James Brown, the mill’s owner, says he jumped at the chance to donate, with so many food-industry workers furloughed. “They were very nimble and quick to respond to a real demonstrated need,” he says.

And as long as that need lasts, the pair says they’ll continue baking. Long term, they’ve dreamed of opening up a small store, where one of the things they’d like to sell is Ms. Stevens’ bread.

On a recent afternoon, while talking about the magical sound of bread cooling – 12 loaves can create the sound of a small rainstorm, Ms. Stevens explains – a little boy with a teddy bear on his head interrupts to say hello. His older sister, decked out in an apron, runs over to join the party.

This is an added benefit, Ms. Stevens and Ms. Goldberg say: They – and other parents ­– can model generosity for their children.

“We try so hard to teach our kids to be kind and good in the world. And we can talk and talk about it,” says Ms. Goldberg. “But the act of them seeing it happen is extremely valuable.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

[An earlier version of this article misspelled Anne Hebert’s last name.]

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