April 23, 2018

The Bread Project raises up refugees, immigrants, and returning citizens through jobs training

Renewal Awards finalist The Bread Project is creating a diverse ecosystem of support, commerce, and community in the Bay Area

The Bread Project uses skills and job training to fight poverty in the Bay Area. They were a 2017 Renewal Awards finalist. Photo courtesy of The Bread Project Facebook page


Meet the finalists for The Renewal Awards, a project of The Atlantic and Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $150,000 in grant money. Ten winners will be announced March 27 at The Renewal Summit in New Orleans, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

We all need support to thrive, just as a loaf of bread needs yeast to rise. The Bread Project provides job training for individuals in the Bay Area to raise them up from minimum-wage jobs to professionally skilled living wage professions in the culinary industry.

By creating “an ecosystem of support, commerce and community,” TBP is enhancing the lives of the formerly incarcerated, refugees and low-income individuals with high barriers to employment and putting them on a trajectory toward a fulfilling and life-changing career path. To date, the organization has helped more than 1,800 people find their way in the commercial bakery industry.

TBP does this by emphasizing training, self-sufficiency, social enterprise and jobs. Using its innovative “Bakery Boot Camp,” TBP consistently delivers on its mission to turn lives around. The results speak for themselves:

  • 30 days to find a job after completing training
  • 89 percent job placement rate post graduation
  • 96 percent job retention rate (90 days)
  • $14.20 average hourly wage

Though the “Bakery Boot Camp” focuses on baking skills, many of the positions its graduates are hired for have little to do with baking. But turning out bakers isn’t really the aim of the program. Instead, the curriculum centers on teaching transferable skills for the entire food industry.

We spoke to Pamela Calloway, The Bread Project’s Executive Director, about the role the organization plays in the Bay Area community, as well as the historical figures that inspire her. The following is an edited and condensed version of our Q&A. Follow The Bread Project at their website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Tell us about The Bread Project.

The Bread Project (TBP) is a California-based, nonprofit that provides job skills and employment readiness training in commercial baking to low-income Bay Area residents who are actively seeking employment on their paths to self-sufficiency.

Who is the community you serve?

Our community is the entire Bay Area. TBP students are often, but not exclusively, residents of Berkeley, Oakland and other East Bay cities and townships. Thirty-five percent of our students are formerly incarcerated persons; 30 percent are refugees, asylees and immigrants; and 33 percent are persons with disabilities. We also consider as our “community,” the employers who hire our graduates, the community-based organizations that assist with recruitment, and volunteer activities. Our donors and funders are certainly also counted among our community, too.

When did you start your community work?

My personal community work story begins while still a babe in arms. Civic responsibility and public service were often discussed and held in high regard by our family. For example, one of our parents took me and my sister to every voting experience they had—even before we could walk. I also remember participating in “trick or treat for UNICEF” as an elementary school student. In later year, I was consistently a student leader from chair of the Student Senate in High School to national chair of the Black Law Students Association in law school.

What inspired you to do this work?

A historically and family-inspired commitment to serve others. I set out for college at age 17 holding on to the words credited to Margaret Sanger in a 1912 speech at Keene Teaching School: “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

In addition to the work of TBP to reduce poverty “one job at a time,” I also serve on the board of directors for the East Bay Community Foundation and the Chinatown Community Development Center.

What do you love about your community?

Its diversity, support for artists and the creative community, very active political communities, climate, food, and music.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

It is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live, work and love. Here it is truly possible to insist on love, wonder, and beauty.

What leader or leaders inspire you?

Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Frida Kahlo, Madame C.J. Walker, Emma Gonzalez, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and my Mom!

Brock Meeks

Brock Meeks is a contributor to The Renewal Project.
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