COVID times have given rise to a trend in home baking. Yeah… pun intended and full disclosure… more to come.
Folks who’ve never been closer to fresh bread out of the oven than standing in their local bakery have discovered the joys — and the comfort — provided by kneading dough. The icing on the cake — they watch their efforts nourish their family, their community and ultimately their souls.
The effort to provide fresh-baked bread to those people experiencing food insecurity, through food pantries across the Pacific Northwest, has graduated from a group of sourdough geeks to include all interested parties in the communities.
Baking up a unique, delicious, and nutritious solution, Community Loaves — which stocks the pantry at spots like our own Edmonds Food bank — began in Washington. Hubs have sprung up in Oregon and Idaho, growing the network to serve more communities.
I asked the individuals in these next sections a question: “What’s in YOUR ovens these days?”
Edmonds resident Kim Wahl shared her experiences with baking, not just for her own family but for the community at large. Kim is a member of Community Loaves, and the motto “We’re Breader Together” is apt. I am proud to share that the Edmonds Hub has donated over 1,600 loaves and currently has thirty six active members. Kim says “We need more.”
I’d heard about Community Loaves from Edmonds resident and former Seattle Times restaurant writer Nancy Leson last year when she became Hub coordinator for the Edmonds group. Nancy is a food person, has been all of her life — both professional and personal — so I could see her getting involved up to her eyeballs, or maybe up to her elbows!
I peppered Kim with questions:
KP – What incited you to join?
Kim – I, like most people, started making sourdough bread during the pandemic. But it’s just my husband and I at home, so I was giving it away and freezing lots of loaves. I saw the article about Community Loaves and thought it would be a great way to give back to people in need. I was making bread anyway so why not make a few extra loaves. I also liked the idea of using grain from local farms and having access to purchase it for my own use.
KP – What is your previous experience with baking?
Kim – I’ve always baked but never worked in food service. Love to cook and always willing try new things. My other “hobby” is making chocolates and giving them away. Been asked a lot why I don’t start a business and sell them. My answer is that I enjoy giving them away, and I don’t need another job. I’m co-owner of a floor covering store in Edmonds.
KP – Are you part of the Edmonds group?
Kim – I am part of the Edmonds hub, and Nancy is our hub leader. She’s great and very helpful. If you need supplies quick or have questions she is there.
KP – How long have you participated?
Kim – I attended a training seminar in February but didn’t start baking until April. Community Loaves asks individuals to use specific types of flour and I had to wait to get my flour order. We order and pick up once a month at Nancy’s.
KP – Approximately how many loaves of bread have you baked so far?
Kim – I have donated approx 100 loaves so far.
KP – What is your most enjoyable part of this project?
Kim – Favorite part is donation day and knowing that someone is getting a homemade loaf of bread. The bread from our hub goes to the Edmonds Food Bank, so I know it’s my community that is benefitting. It’s flexible and I can participate on my schedule.
KP – Which part of the process that is especially enjoyable for you?
Kim – Favorite part of the process is pulling them out of the oven, the loaves smell so good!
KP- What is the most challenging aspect?
Kim – Most challenging is finding room in my freezer for more loaves. I’m considering getting another freezer.
KP- Now that is what I call commitment to the cause!
KP- Any special “prep” for kitchen/home area needed to participate, beyond common sense-type steps?
Kim – I would say the only thing that helps is having a stand mixer. Not necessary, but helpful. Also, some free time helps; you bake as much or as little as you want. We are all volunteers.
KP – Has being part of Community Loaves opened up new friendships/relationships for you?
Kim – I’ve meet some really great people who care a lot about this program. They will help you with anything. They will train you, walk you through the process and even invite you to join them so you can get some hands on training.
KP – What would you say to someone considering joining the group?
Kim – I would tell anyone who was interested to attend the training. See if it’s something that interests you. You can bake one loaf or 10, every loaf is needed. They provide recipes for yeast and sourdough and will teach you how to make the bread. We all make the same recipes. It is really good bread! They even encourage you to make some for donation and some for you and your family to eat.
Her closing pitch: “Come bake with us!”
Edmonds Hub coordinator Nancy Leson checked in to share even more about this amazing movement, and the way it gives back to participants.
Initially, Nancy joined to offer help to the community at large, and because she loves to bake bread.
“What I didn’t expect was that the baking knowledge I’ve gleaned through Community Loaves — and, more perhaps more importantly, the many new friendships I’ve forged with my Edmonds neighbors and fellow bread-bakers around the Sound. (It) has made belonging to this organization an integral part of what I do to keep myself emotionally grounded and involved with the world around me.”
As a hub coordinator, Nancy looks forward to “Donation Sundays.”
“Hub-mates arrive at my house, in cars and trucks, on bikes, scooters and by foot, bearing gifts: gorgeous loaves of bread that go from their hands and their homes directly to mine, and from there to the Edmonds Food Bank and to homes of Edmonds seniors in need.”
Nancy loves everything about the process, including the fact that those loaves are made with Northwest wheat, milled right here in Skagit Valley. “And yes,” she says, “I always keep a loaf for myself.”
A bit of history: Initially all the groups’ loaves went to Hopelink in Kirkland, and as the numbers multiplied, they were distributed to all five of Hopelink’s pantries, including Shoreline. When Nancy started baking (exactly a year ago) she was the third Edmonds baker and drove her loaves to a new hub — one of far fewer, at the time — in Kenmore.
Nancy became the Edmonds hub coordinator and today her hub’s Edmonds volunteers number at 40. And Nancy states, for the record: “I’d love to have 40 more in our group!”
She notes that while not all 40 members bake for every donation day, there’s a core group who show up every time, bags of bread in hand. Some bring three loaves, others a dozen.
“When I stack them into big produce boxes (which hold a dozen loaves each) and pack those into my car, I’m amazed at what we can all do together,” she said.
As of Sunday, Sept 18, Nancy Leson has personally donated 120 loaves. “Some of my bakers are (retired) professionals! Others are beginners who rely on me and our extended team at Community Loaves Central — especially our fearless leader, Katherine Kehrli — to troubleshoot.”
Readers: Do you love to bake or want to learn the skill? Community Loaves could use your assistance. There’s such a demand for bread and all the hubs are looking for more bakers. To provide food pantries with much-needed bread, as Kim Wahl and Nancy Leson say: “It makes you feel good!”
You can view hub locations and contact information here.
— By Kathy Passage
A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the food and restaurant scene in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.