MILWAUKEE — Bread is bringing people together in many ways through a program called Neighbor Loaves.
The Artisan Grain Collaborative started the program after seeing the benefits it would have on multiple groups of people.
The idea is simple: someone buys a neighbor loaf, an artisan baker bakes it using locally sourced ingredients, and then the baker donates the loaf to a local food pantry.
In the Milwaukee area both Stone Creek Coffee and Stephen's Breads participate. The bakers donate Neighbor Loaves to the Riverwest Food Pantry and Bay View Community Center, respectively.
Stephen Blanchard of Stephen's Breads says the program helps local farmers, "With the local grains we get to help out all the small farmers that can't compete with the big farms."
Blanchard uses 100% whole wheat to make his sourdough loaf. His current starter is almost eight years old. Stone Creek's starter is a few years younger. "It's a sourdough culture that we started about 2 1/2 years ago and kept it growing ever since," said Kris Collett, bakery director at Stone Creek Coffee.
Sourdough starters that continue to grow and feed hungry stomachs is a fact not lost on food pantry directors.
"Community work moves forward at the speed of trust," said Vincent Noth, executive director of the Riverwest Food Pantry. "You need a little bit of that good starter to build on it, right? You need a little bit of trust to build more trust. Food is not just about fuel. Food is about community."
And it's about respecting community members who come through the food pantry doors, some for the first time.
"To serve those people with dignity and respect, with freshly-baked bread made just for them, is much more than just coming to the food pantry and getting a bag of canned goods," said Laura Ehr, project coordinator at the Bay View Community Center.
The Neighbor Loaves Program is breaking bread and building community all at once.
"To think that we might be playing a small part in that, at people's dinner tables, that feels good," Collett said.
To learn more about the Neighbor Loaves program and how you can buy a loaf visit http://graincollaborative.com/neighbor-loaves/