Saturday, January 16, 2010

Baked Goods and Social Action.

When it comes to the 'hiring homeless people' aspect of my business, I think that is what, overall, I'm beginning to see as the most risky or controversial aspect of the bakery. I am going to preface this by saying that this idea as part of the bakery is absolutely non-negotiable; if I can't have this aspect of my bakery in the long-term, then I am not going to start up the bakery. When I see myself doing anything long-term that takes up a lot of time, I believe that it has to serve a higher purpose and help people on a social level. I've just found that when I work in fields where I feel I'm not benefiting other people, I start to feel incredibly guilty and sad. It's the white liberal in me. I know not everyone feels this way, and that's totally cool. It's just a personal feeling that I can't help, and I promise I won't beat you over the head with it.
I have asked people if the idea of hiring the homeless would deter them from going to that particular bakery, and most of the response I've gotten has been: "It wouldn't bother me, but other people aren't going to like it". Overall the consensus is that hiring people affected by poverty might imply dirtiness. That brings up the "why not just donate?" thread again, which of course I want to do, but I have a problem with just doing that in the long run.
Why? Let me put it this way. I don't have a problem with straight-up charity. I  think it is really great in a lot of ways, and there's nothing wrong with donating food or clothing that you don't need so that other people can be full or warm. Everyone deserves those things. However -- and this can piss people off, so I'm prefacing this by saying that I don't mean to offend -- I think there are a lot of problems inherent in the modern charity system, and that when you think about it in the long run, it doesn't help anyone, and actually perpetuates poverty. A nice little proverb sums it up, and I'm sure it's one that you have heard before: give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. Just giving people stuff doesn't really help them. Give them free food, they're full today, but what about tomorrow? They're going to be hungry again, and you're just going to have to keep giving them food. So why not, rather than give them a sandwich every day, empower them to eventually be able to work and buy that sandwich themselves? I think when you ask most people what they'd rather have, they would choose a steady job over a handout. Charity can be humiliating to the people you're giving to.
So while I don't find donating baked goods to be a bad thing, it is only a band-aid; a temporary fix that does little overall. That is why I feel like projects like The Cara Program are so great -- it empowers people to lift themselves out of poverty and live their lives with dignity. That is why this aspect of the bakery is so important to me, and without it, I feel the endeavor is pointless.
(Also, word on the street is homeless people are, in fact, capable of bathing, washing their hands, and practicing other sanitary measures. Go figure!)
Now I just need to find a market for people who are altruistic and would find that aspect of the bakery a selling point for them, without making it sound like we pick drifters up off the street and put them straight to work. Also, I need a way to fit that philosophy on the back of a brochure. Lots of work ahead of us, then.

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