Ingredients for success

Before Sylvia Jones started the bakery training program with the River Bakery last year, she was raising her five-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son with minimum wage jobs.

“When I joined the program, I was homeless at the moment. Things were difficult.” Jones said. “It had been months since we’ve gotten to just have consistency and a routine.”

Sylvia Jones is one of 14 graduates of the River Food Pantry training program who has been successfully employed as a baker (Christopher Yue/Madison Commons).Sylvia Jones is one of 14 graduates of the River Food Pantry training program who has been successfully employed as a baker (Christopher Yue/Madison Commons).Since the completion of bakery training program earlier this year, Jones has been working as an apprentice for the River Bakery at FEED Kitchen, a food processing facility open to the community by the Northside Planning Council of Madison. She finally found the routine she was seeking for her two young children.

Sylvia Jones is one of the 19 students completed the free River Bakery Job Training program since 2013, and 14 of them have find jobs as bakers in the food industry. All of the program participants come from low-income families around Madison area and 90 percent of them are minority residents.

“It’s not you just come to be in this program, and you don’t know what’s happening next,” Jones said. “They are working with you the whole time to see what you wanna do next, what you’re qualified for, how far you wanna go with it. That’s something other programs don’t offer.”

The job training program, established by the River Food Pantry, aims to offer valuable job training and placement services for Madison area community members through a not-for-profit bakery business. All participants will receive certifications from Wisconsin Bakers Association and National Restaurant Association as part of the program.

Consumers can find the River Bakery products, made by training program participants, at local groceries like Metcalfe’s and Fresh Madison Market.  

This year, the bakery training program is expanding to include other culinary skills like knife skills. developed in collaboration with Madison Area Chefs Network.

“If you have any passion for it, do it,” Sylvia said, encouraging more people to consider participate in the program. “Not everyone has a year’s time, Not everyone can afford it. If there won’t people who gave us money and donated to the program, I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

The average cost to train one student is nearly 4000 dollars, and Andy Czerkas from River Food Pantry thinks the investment is well worth it.

“Not only is kitchen work a growth industry in Dane County, most restaurant jobs pay above minimum wage, and often come with full benefits,” Czerkas said. “these are quality jobs that can help move families out of poverty and into positions where they can fully participate in our region’s strong food economy.”

The program is made possible by the River Food Pantry and Madison Urban Ministry, with additional funding support from Willy St. Coop Community Investment Fund, City of Madison, Alliant Energy Foundation, and Madison Community Foundation.