Monday, September 27, 2010

Locally Featured: Greyston Bakery, Yonkers, NY: "Greyston Is Saving Lives"

I have spent the past few days searching, searching for words that could possibly express the awe that I have been feeling.  I took a trip last week, and came back with a renewed sense of good in the world.  

 For this weeks Locally Featured, I'm going to bring you on the same trip that I took, and hope that through my words I am able to convey every bit of wonder and admiration that I have.  I traveled to Yonkers, NY to visit The Greyston Bakery, a for profit business committed to supporting every person in their community, and by assisting their non profit parent foundation- the Greyston Foundation.  The Greyston Bakery is not your average bakery.  Sure it makes delicious confections- a ridiculously tasty Blondie Brownie, and even those wonderful ribbons of impossibly rich and chewy brownies found in Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream flavors.  However it's main goal isn't really to make brownies- it's goal is to employ people. This  statement reads clearly when you look them up- the Greyston Bakery isn't "hiring people to bake brownies, but baking brownies to hire people".  

You may be reading that quote and wondering "what's the difference?", let me tell you, the application of this idea at Greyston provides a huge difference between the two.

BUTTER!  Greyston Bakery uses only all natural ingredients

To begin with some background information, The Greyston Bakery was founded in 1982, by a Buddhist Priest who recognized the need for action to help the growing homeless population of New York.  Knowing that the best way to help would be to give those who wanted to work jobs, he opened a bakery and instituted a hiring plan known as "Open Hiring".  Basically, this means that anyone is able to sign a sheet, which still hangs outside the bakery, expressing interest in working.  When positions open up, the bakery gets in touch with those persons who have signed up and, without conducting any type of background check, or reviewing a resume, the person is given a job.  The stipulation for keeping that job?  Show up every day you are scheduled and show up ready to work.  This Open Hiring plan gives a chance at employment, a chance at making an honest living, to persons who may previously have been categorized as "unemployable".  

My version of Greyston Blondie's ready for the oven

Saying, however, that Greyston is simply employing those who might need jobs more than anyone else, is an extreme understatement.  At the bakery they are not only giving them a chance to make a regular paycheck, but they are giving them a chance to start over, to change their life course, and to find their true calling.  "Open Hiring" starts off each employee in an apprenticeship program that lasts a period of a year.  During this time management and human resources at Greyston work with each individual.  They learn a variety of tasks, and they are assisted with topics like workplace etiquette, personal hygiene, and career building- topics that they may never have thought about before.  They learn how to write their resume, a document that they can start and grow at Greyston.  They are given life skills.  Once the year apprenticeship is complete, and the requirements of that time are met, the employee is brought on full time with a pay increase, hours increase, entrance into the Union, full benefits, and a $500.00 bonus.  This isn't charity, this is the embodiment of the proverb- If you teach a man to fish...  

During our day at Greyston we had the opportunity to meet and hear from four of employees of Greyston, each who was hired through the Open Hire process.  The first two men we heard from were each celebrating their 11 year anniversary at the company.  They had each been involved in drug dealing and had served time prior to finding work at Greyston.  They had taken pay cuts from $2- 3,000 a week on the streets, to minimum wage in the bakery.  They chose to change their lives.  

When the panel began in which these employees spoke to us, I didn't know what to expect.  I'll admit to you, I anticipated these employees to be hardened.  Perhaps I watch too much Law and Order on TV, but I have a stereotypical viewpoint of persons who have spent time in jail.  The first two who spoke banished those thoughts from my mind.  They were full of pride in what they had been able to accomplish through working at Greyston, and they were brimming with appreciation.  They spoke of their families at home, their children that they wanted to provide for and be a good role model for.  They spoke of being involved in their community, helping others, and watching out for their friends.  They spoke to knowing that if it hadn't been for Greyston, they would not be alive any longer.  

The third gentleman who spoke presented raw emotion to us in the room. He was a more recent employee, having been there just under two years.  He had resisted the idea of joining the bakery, but to satisfy his parole requirements he had signed the sheet at the door to the Bakery.  He measured how much the Bakery had changed his world, and to the extent that they had saved his life that he broke down in tears and found it difficult to speak further.  The emotion that these employees brought to us is beyond the word remarkable.  Each recognizing that their life was saved by a company who simply wants them to bake brownies.  

Greyston goes beyond just employment in making a commitment to each person who walks through their doors.  As with any company, each employee is evaluated, and watched for strengths.  GreystonGreyston ensure that the employees they see managerial promise in, are able to recognize that possibility.  The head of human resources spoke to us about a woman who had been working in the line for some years and promoted to the highest level she could without supervising staff.  As they looked to bring her into this supervisory role, as she continued to excel in her position, they found that she had difficulty reading and writing. Greyston took on full financial responsibility to diagnose a learning disability, and provide the correct treatment for this lady to move past her difficulty.  She moved on in the company and continues to excel.  

Greyston, both in the bakery, and in the Greyston Foundation, is not just providing a chance for people to turn their lives around, they are giving them every possible tool to achieve success.  

An eggplant ripens in the community garden

The Greyston Foundation, the non profit foundation upholding the principles of the Bakery, operates several facilities in the Yonkers area to continue their mission.  Within the foundation is low income housing, community gardens full of beautiful hand grown fruits, vegetables and flowers, an HIV and AIDS center for both in patient and out patient care and a child care center.  Their child care center is nationally recognized, providing care for children as young as six weeks old, and starting their day at 7:30 am until 6:00 pm.  Children in the care of this center are provided with a clean, safe place, filled with natural light while their parents work, and are given breakfast, lunch and snack each day.  Care like this allows parents to continue to work, and know that their children are being cared for.

The work that is being done in Yonkers, on a daily basis, is far beyond baking brownies for resale and for the world to enjoy in tasty ice cream treats.  The work that is being done is in the hearts of people who only needed a chance to see how far they could go.  It is visible on the faces of the men and women who seized the opportunities  presented to them, who have taken on the responsibilities of hard work, and have been rewarded with the opportunity to take college classes, or complete their high school education, provide for their families, and feel pride in their lives once again. 

Greyston Bakery brownies, and their recently introduced gluten free line, can be purchased on line at  While I haven't dedicated probably enough time here to their actual product, please know that purchasing their confections- is not only helpful to the mission of the bakery- but to you as they are darn tasty as well.  I was sent home with a tray of brownies that I had actually gotten to make while there, as well as some of their pre made samples- I finally had to stash it all in the freezer to play the out of sight out of mind trick.  It has only sort of worked as I am now developing a real taste for frozen Blondie's.

In conclusion- the words of the Greyston Bakery employees:
"Greyston is like family to me"  
"Greyston is building lives"
"Greyston is saving lives"

Seriously- how delicious does that look?
And one from me- "Greyston is making this world a MUCH better place- one delicious brownie to the next"- seriously try their brownies.  Give them as gifts- to yourself or to your friends and family.   


The Small Boston Kitchen said...

wow, what a great story! I love hearing about things like this.

Finance Foodie said...

Awesome write up! what a great trip!

Elena said...

Thank you so much for this terrific post - come back and visit again! I work at Greyston, too, and it really is the way you describe it. Shout out to all the Greyston staff - especially Lucy in the Community Gardens!

And seriously, there is nothing better than a Greyston brownie!

Anonymous said...

Yep. Who wouldn't want to support something like this? Buy a brownie, send a brownie, send a donation, tell a friend. I will do all 4 thanks to this blog post.

Anonymous said...

This is a good blog. Keep up all the work. I too love blogging and expressing my opinions. Thanks

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MonarchRH said...

Heartwarming to see such goodness and sweetness in a local company. Yonkers is better off for Greyston Bakery. Thank you for his wonderful article.

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