BERKELEY (KPIX 5) – The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy as businesses desperately seek the workers they need to keep operating. A program in Berkeley is helping meet that need, with people in need of a second chance.

The Bread Project began 22 years ago when a woman named Lucie Buchbinder created a job-training program, teaching people to bake.

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Now, more than 2,000 people have graduated from the 5-week course, designed to give students the skills to begin a career. On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, the current class was baking 300 rolls for a feast for the homeless.

Rolls being made at The Bread Project in Berkeley, November 24, 2021. (CBS)

Rolls being made at The Bread Project in Berkeley, November 24, 2021. (CBS)

“It’s not just a fun program for people who want to learn how to cook,” said Bread Project board member Lisa Caronna. “It’s really about helping people move in and get jobs.”

The program’s chef instructor Gram Gould confirmed that, saying students soon learn that working in the food service business is no piece of cake.

“I think a lot of people are surprised at how much effort goes into making meals,” Gould said.  “You’ve got to love doing it, because it’s too hard to do otherwise.”

The Bread Project focuses on people who have a tough time finding work, such as the formerly incarcerated or immigrants and refugees.  Food prepared by the project is donated to others in need through a local homeless support facility called the Dorothy Day House.

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Student James Marrable said he wants to live a life of service, but first must overcome people’s judgment of him for having been in prison.

“You can’t just judge somebody for their past,” Marrable told KPIX 5.  “You get to know them as a person—not just a number, not just a statistic—but as an actual human being, to see what that human being wants to do with his life and how he can affect the lives of others.”

And the ability to have an affect has never been greater.

This is no charity program.  Restaurants are closing down because of the worker shortage. So the students in the Bread Project are desperately needed to help keep the food industry going.

That gives Marrable what he has always wanted, a sense of purpose—and he can hardly control his excitement about the possibilities of his new career.

“Man, look, I’m too excited,” Marrable said. “You can’t see under the mask, man, but I’m cheesin’.  I’m ready, though. It’s going to happen. It’s going to come.”

Since the pandemic began, the Bread Project has become an important food lifeline for the community at the same time it’s creating a new wave of restaurant workers.  It’s the ultimate win/win situation because, in their kitchen, it’s not just the dough that’s rising.

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The Bread Project is a private non-profit and relies on donations from the public for support.  For more information, go to www.breadproject.org