Local nonprofit Community Loaves bakes fresh bread for those in need
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in 10 people in Washington state faced food insecurity. By the end of 2020, experts estimated that figure doubled, with up to 20% of people in the state going hungry. Food banks around Washington are also reporting double the number of people lining up for food, but thanks to the efforts of one local group, some of those hungry families are now getting fresh bread.
“What we’re trying to do is to put a little bit of a dent in this food shortage that has fallen on so many households,” said Katherine Kehrli, founder of Community Loaves, on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “Our food pantries are definitely struggling, as you just highlighted.”
“Who we are is a collection of passionate home-based bakers, which is not that hard to find in this time of pandemic. A lot of people have turned to their kitchens for comfort during this time, and baking has been a little bit of aromatherapy for the home, and restorative — it’s how we care,” Kehrli added.
Put those two together, she explains, and you get Community Loves. It’s a group of home-based bakers that can channel their interest in baking bread in an organized way that Kehrli says “allows us to make some real impact, or hopefully to make some real impact, into the food banks.”
“I’ve always been interested in bread,” she explained. “And for the last six years, I’ve done a deep dive in bread, so I’m a bread baker at heart. Not by profession, but by heart.”
“Just prior to the pandemic, I was the organizer of a Northwest bread baking group, again, a community of artisan bread bakers interested in just exploring and learning the craft,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, like so many, we were looking for purpose and for connection, and a way to stay together.”
Kehrli had heard about a program by professional bakers called neighbor loaves where you can buy a loaf of bread and they’ll give a loaf of bread to someone in need.
“Then I thought, well, wait a second, is it possible for us as home-based bakers to similarly create bread, maybe not buy it, but bake it and give it to food banks? So from that light bulb, I just did a little research. The Department of Health allows home-based bakers to donate nonperishable — items that don’t have to be refrigerated are allowed to be donated to food banks,” she said.
“But food banks want items that are predictable, that are reliable, so by creating a little bit more organization, we’ve sort of fed multiple birds with one seed,” Kehrli added.
There are more than 740 volunteers involved with Community Loaves, including bakers, drivers, and people who package the bread, organized into 38 geographic hubs.
“I have team leaders now that are hub coordinators, that help keep people stay connected and remind them, ‘hey, this is a donation Sunday coming up,’ and how to get their supplies,” Kehrli said.
“We are currently really well entrenched in the Puget Sound, and have just started our operations in Oregon,” she added. “… We have two hubs now there, just getting our feet wet. And we hope to continue to spread this opportunity as far as we can.”
The idea for Community Loaves started in March 2020, and the first donation was in April 2020. Since then, Kehrli says it’s been a fast 11 months, and they’re still learning.
“We just keep moving as fast as we can because the energy is there and the need is so great,” she said. “We’re supporting 14 different food banks at this time, and when I say supporting, it means that they’re getting bread loaves. … I love the success that we’ve had, but it’s a drop in the bucket to the need.”
“Those 14 food pantries represent as many as 13,000 households in need visiting the food bank each week. So we’ve got a ways to go if we’re going to get a loaf in everybody’s hands. But you can’t do it without trying, and so here we are,” she added.
If you, like host Gee Scott, love bread and just can’t get enough of it, Kehrli did share a tip:
“Don’t worry about it. Eat really good bread,” she said. “Enjoy it.”
Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.