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Successful bakery is run by 15 staff with special needs | #specialneeds | #kids | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


South Fork Bakery in Long Island, New York, employs 15 members of staff with special needs (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

‘These members of society are so marginalized and they just need a chance to show that they are capable’, said Shirley Ruch, 62, who is the founder of a one-of-a-kind bakery run entirely by people with special needs.

From its bakers to delivery drivers and packers to cake decorators, all 15 members of staff at the South Fork Bakery, in Long Island, New York, have some form of disability and have struggled to get a job because of it. But after being given a rare chance to prove themselves by Shirley, the group have grown into a successful team of cake-makers who now churn out 2,000 delicious treats a week.

The bakery supplies 50 stores throughout Long Island and over the last four-and-a-half years has provided paid employment for more than 30 young adults with special needs.

The brains behind the idea, Shirley, a former speech and language therapist, said: ‘Everyone who works here has some form of special needs, ranging from autism to Down syndrome and other learning difficulties.

South Fork Bakery

The team make up to 2000 cakes, brownies, cookies and pies each week (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

South Fork Bakery

The bakery supplies around 50 local retailers with sweet treats and cakes (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

‘We are unique because of the people who are working here. Everything we make here is made with love and everyone loves baking.

‘We make 2000 pieces a week and supply around 50 stores in the local area so we have a lot of potential and the guys are very talented. We make cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, macaroons, gingerbread men and seasonal snacks.

‘What’s been really special for me is to see everyone socialise and enjoy coming to work, a lot of them have met great friends here. So many benefits come from coming to work and all I want to do is give people a chance to be successful at work.

‘There is still a lot of discrimination in the workplace and I’ll be honest, I can’t fault the employer because employing someone with special needs does have a lot of challenges. But it can work and it can work well, we are showing that.

Shirley Ruch

Shirley Ruch, left, is the founder of South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

South Fork Bakery

The bakery offers employment to members of society who have previously struggled to get a job (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

‘This population is so marginalized and they are very isolated. But they do have potential that is very much untapped and they just enough support to gain confident and grow in themselves.’

The bakery was founded by Shirley in May 2016 after she noticed a shortage of real-life workplace opportunities in the local area for people with special needs. She said many of the disabled clients she used to see as a therapist had either never had a job or had struggled to maintain employment, despite multiple experts suggesting that a job can dramatically boost disabled people’s self-worth and enjoyment of life.

Shirley said she said came up with the idea for the bakery herself after growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of workplace diversity and inclusivity for young adults with special needs. She started out with just six employees; all of whom were her former clients selected for the job via an application and interview process.

Her initial aim was to teach teach young adults skills that will hopefully make them more employable in the future.
South Fork Bakery

South Fork Bakery

South Fork Bakery offers national delivery and has an online shop for customers (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

Shirley said: ‘I try to show them how to be acceptable and behave properly in a real workplace. We teach people the basic job and communications skills needed in the real world.

‘A key thing is I make the guys feel respected and to be in an environment like this with people like them is a gift.

‘These people are capable and all they need is a chance to show that. They need something purposeful in their lives so they can try to live a normal life like everyone else.’

Each member of staff at the bakery works part-time and, supported by a professional baker, each plays their part in creating some of Long Island’s most popular sweet snacks. All products are made from scratch with freshly made dough before being decorated and packaged ready for delivery.

South Fork Bakery

All produce is handmade by the fully-trained members of staff (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

South Fork Bakery

Shirley, pictured front centre, founded South Fork Bakery in May 2016 (Picture: South Fork Bakery/metro.co.uk)

The bakery is a wholesale business meaning it doesn’t have a store and instead sells its baked goods to local retailers who then re-sell them to customers. It also offers national delivery across the US thanks to a successful first five years of baking.

Shirley added: ‘We have a team of three bakers who do the cooking and work with the dough and we also have guys who help with packing, mixing ingredients and deliveries.

‘I have witnessed discrimination against this population and things need to change. They just need to be supported, if the support isn’t there from the employer then it’s not going to work.

‘I am helping to make these people employable and yes, it does me a good feeling to know that I am starting a career for somebody.’

Discover more about South Fork Bakery by visiting its website here.





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