In February of 2009, I was meeting with my assistant and a parent about potential jobs for our students here at the Church of the Resurrection. This would help parents have some free time and would also help the students develop job skills. After determining that many of them would require skills that our students did not have or would require too much supervision, one of the parents, Beverly Williamson, told us about a cookie baking program in Texas that her daughter participated in. We decided to try it out by ordering frozen cookie dough and a small convection oven. Our thoughts were to provide our café, The Spring, with a few fresh baked cookies during the week.
I told some of our congregational volunteers about what we’re doing. We were encouraged to apply for grants, which we did. In addition to receiving funding from grants, we were also given generous donations by families that loved the idea.
Access House at Blue Valley Schools was most helpful in how they run their program and they supplied us with contact information on supplies we would need. 3 Women and an Oven also provided us with lots of helpful information. Many wonderful volunteers from the food industry have offered advice and have come in to help us.
We purchased a large convection oven and the necessary baking supplies to work in our minimal space. We only have a small galley kitchen in our church, but we are capable of baking bread, cookies, scones and cinnamon rolls. Given that we do not have a commercial kitchen, we do not bake from scratch. Everything we make is sold through the café. This venture is not merely selling to make a profit. We are teaching the students job skills as well as giving them meaningful activities to do during the day. This is a very inclusive environment, with a mixture of adult and youth volunteers.
The bakers bake three days a week and work three-hour shifts. We have 15 bakers, five staff members, and a variety of volunteers that help at various times during the week. The lead staff person for Sonflower Adult Learning program also oversees the bakery. She handles orders, inventory, as well as scheduling of the entire operation.
During the Sonflower Bakery grand opening weekend, we sold over 3,000 baked goods! Since the opening in June 2009, we have made thousands of baked goods. The students are having a wonderful time and love their jobs! They do not get a salary but can take baked goods of their choice home with them at the end of each shift. We frequently have holiday and birthday celebrations for them. One parent told us that her son is the happiest he has ever been! We have been so blessed by this endeavor. Our staff loves baking days as the church smells terrific! We have been able to make cookies for all kinds of special events held here, including the symphony. Our senior pastor, Adam Hamilton, has shared the bakery story around the country as he travels and lectures. It just goes to show you, you do not have to spend a lot of money or have special spaces or equipment to make things happen.
We moved into our new commercial kitchen in May 2018. We are now averaging well over 100,000 products a year. Our rules and requirements have changed vastly since we began 9 years ago and demand continues to grow as word has spread through the community.
Jennifer has served as the Director of Matthew’s Ministry, the Special Needs Ministry of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection for 15 years. Jennifer also serves as Education Chairperson for the Kansas City Down Syndrome Guild and serves on the board of Inclusion Connections which provides day services and operates a dog treat business.