A ministry launching in Salt Lake City promises to unite two oft-disparate elements of Christian mission under one roof: the breaking (and baking) of bread, and hope for those who have been imprisoned or addicted.
Developers of Flourish Bakery, a new social enterprise of Unshackled, hope the space can serve as a supportive environment where previously incarcerated people can learn professional baking skills, earn an income, and find meaningful community.
The Rev. Aimee Altizer started Unshackled to reduce recidivism and help people marginalized by addiction or prison time develop life skills and community connections. In the last five years, the organization’s work has included hosting men’s spiritual gatherings in the Utah State Prison, and it has worked with culinary programs inside of the prison system. All of this has led to a job placement network for men and women who are returning to free society after incarceration.
Flourish grew out of Unshackled as its participants and board began considering ways to develop a mission in partnership with Salt Lake City. Conversations began about community gardens, and the group was invited to work with the city on a new garden. Unshackled’s leaders discerned that was not the right fit and were then invited to consider planting a program in a Housing First initiative, which is one of Salt Lake City’s programs aimed at reducing recidivism and relapse by providing long-term housing to those in immediate need. The program was in an old, refurbished hotel that had a banquet kitchen.
“We began exploring how we would use that as a community development space,” Altizer said, helping the group consider the “core of who we are, the core of our lives, the core of the gospel and hospitality and feeding people.”
In the last two years, that exploration has become Flourish. Part of the bakery’s purpose is to employ people who have been incarcerated or who are in recovery, offering them job skills and eventual placement.
“We still have huge issues with homeless populations, large amounts of people in addiction, and we’re in the top 10 for opioid addiction,” Altizer said. “There’s a lot of pain, a lot of pain in our society. So, we’re looking at how do we help and step in.”
This goal to step in is aided by the experience that Altizer brings to the table. While she is an ordained Episcopal priest, she also works as a pastry chef. She said most of the people working at Flourish have similar experience.
“Either we’re chefs, or we’re purveyors, specialty produce buyers, things like that. We’ve all worked in the realm of food, all worked in kitchens, or grown food for communities,” she said. “I’d say hospitality is probably the root of our lives.”
Along with Altizer, Flourish’s founders are Jason Thornton, Patricia Fava, and the Rev. Sandra Jones, an Episcopal deacon who serves as chaplain to the organization.
Flourish is operating as a training program working out of a central commissary, and bread is sold through the farmers market in Salt Lake City. Altizer said the organization is looking for a brick-and-mortar space in 2018. The goal for this building: a training kitchen and a retail space in which community meals can be held, bringing the communal breaking of bread to people outside of the Episcopal tradition.
While Altizer believes the community in Flourish will help improve the lives of those involved, she also acknowledges the scope of the problem that organizations like Flourish Bakery and Unshackled address
“The issue is epic and it is global,” she said. “Jason actually lobbies around housing issue here, in our state government level. We also have individuals in our realm who speak nationally on recovery and drug issues. I’m not going to deny that this is a much bigger issue. It’s bigger than the United States.”
For her part, Altizer tries to lower barriers to healing and transformation through community. “It’s not just a job. It’s not just a classroom. It is an income. It is a space where people are valued and loved, regardless of what their faith and background has been.”
Flourish is preparing to launch a funding campaign. Altizer said that those wishing to support the bakery may contact the organization and that they can pray.
“I would also ask that individuals pray for growth, for sustainability as we move forward with launching this. Because we want it not only to effect change today; we are specifically building something that will far outlive us.
“I believe that is how the communion of saints is actually connected to our lives today, and to the work we do.”