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Tackling Employment Barriers Through Baking

The growing number of women in Toronto without good jobs is a major factor contributing to the increase in women experiencing homelessness. In 2016, Fred Victor introduced the Women’s Bakery, a program that aims to curb the flow of women into poverty and homelessness by providing a foundation of transferable skills and practical experience – leading to job security and stability.

Women and Employment Challenges

The pandemic pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades. A report by RBC shows 1.5 million Canadian women lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. Women bore the brunt of these job cuts because they tend to work in industries — hospitality and food services, retail, educational services, health care and social assistance — most affected by closures, earnings losses and layoffs.

In general, women experience many challenges in finding and keeping a good job. These include being able to secure appropriate childcare, gaps in employment to raise a family, gender biases and discrimination. This can lead to a loss of networks, connections and confidence.

Without employment, it is impossible to escape poverty and homelessness.

Women’s Bakery

The Women’s Bakery provides a safe and professional environment encouraging ambition, restoration and second chances. Using baking as a tool, the program fosters employability and entrepreneurship, and equips women for success in the working world.

Participants are supported in addressing personal barriers to employment such as: a lack of work experience, low education levels, English as a second language, difficulty finding childcare, housing instability, mental health challenges, transportation costs and others.

A sequence of classes, site visits, work experience, guest speakers and paid employment placements empower women to build a positive future.

Participant Stories

Nicole

Nicole had had a stable career as a journalist. But when she had her son, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. A few years later, she had a daughter as well. By the time she was ready to get back into the workforce, nearly 20 years had passed.

A lot had changed. There was more competition for jobs. You had to apply for everything online. Nicole felt her skills had become rusty. And her priorities remained at home with her family rather than out in the world chasing down a news story. Despite having the education and experience, finding stable work was a struggle.

Nicole joined Fred Victor’s Women’s Bakery and successfully completed the program in 2021.

‘By the time I left the program, I left feeling a renewed self-esteem, I left feeling good about myself, I left feeling empowered and that I had value.’’

The Women’s Bakery also provided Nicole with some clarity to begin thinking about her future. Today, Nicole is focused on growing a successful business with her son – who recently graduated from a culinary arts program. Together, they’ve started Tea Light Treats, offering an afternoon tea experience – boxes filled with a delectable assortment of sandwiches and cakes – delivered right to your door.

Alma

After leaving her abusive husband, Alma needed a job where she could make a living wage and still be available to care for her children in the evenings. She loved the idea of learning about the food industry behind the scenes, so she joined our Women’s Bakery program.

 “The Women’s Bakery program helped me prove to myself and prove to my kids that we can stand on our own two feet and do everything for ourselves. It showed me that we are going to be alright.”

Alma didn’t stop there. Today, she is the Lead Facilitator of the Women’s Bakery and helps to empower other women who join the program.

Joy

“I was very sad and depressed. I’m a mom of two young children. I’m a trained food microbiologist. But I was finding it very difficult to get into the job market in Canada.”

Joy echoes the struggle that many women face in finding employment these days. The pandemic forced a lot of people out of work. But the aforementioned report by RBC shows women, mothers, new immigrants and visible minorities have been the hardest hit with job losses.

Joy continues, “My husband has to work two jobs…we were facing a lot of challenges at home, so I needed to step out of my comfort zone and do something.” She decided to join the Women’s Bakery at Fred Victor.

“It was a fulfilling experience for me. I have plenty of opportunities now,” says Joy. “Fred Victor’s Women’s Bakery gave me the confidence to start my own business. The future is very bright for me. It’s brighter than the sun.”

You can check out Joy’s mouth-watering Nigerian meat pies and other delectable dishes on Instagram: @golden_nourishment.

Icing on The Cake

On November 25th, the Women’s Bakery held a graduation ceremony for 18 women who recently completed the program. Along with their certificates, each woman received a kit of baker’s essentials generously provided by The Cookery – honouring their resilience, achievements and success.

In addition to the remarkable staff members who make the Women’s Bakery possible, we have several generous supporters who contribute to its success.

They include Eileen Gilles and Rob Badun, Rob Badun’s Book Club, Barrick Gold, Penny Appeal Canada, Scotiabank, State Street, The United Church of Canada, Women United at the United Way, and the Weston Family Foundation.

From the left – Keith Hambly, CEO of Fred Victor, Alma Cosio, Lead Facilitator of the Women’s Bakery and Mark Strong, National Community Engagement Ambassador, Penny Appeal Canada at Women’s Bakery Graduation on Nov 25th, 2021.

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