EVERETT — The overwhelming aroma and golden-brown glow of a fresh-baked loaf of honey oat bread is enough to make your mouth water.
In kitchens across Puget Sound, volunteer bakers are cooking up that exact treat but won’t taste a bite. This bread is for people experiencing food insecurity in Snohomish County and beyond.
Community Loaves — founded in April 2020 by Katherine Kehrli— organizes bakers of varying skill levels to make and donate bread twice a month.
Kehrli started the nonprofit with a few pioneer bakers and a desire to help during the pandemic. The first donation was 19 loaves of bread to Hopelink, an organization seeking to mitigate poverty in the Kirkland area.
In less than a year, the network swelled to more than 600 professional and amateur bakers supporting a dozen organizations in Washington and Oregon.
“Although the impact is our primary goal, and that is delivering nutritious bread to the food banks, our vehicle is home bakers and we want to be open and affirming for bakers of all levels,” said Kehrli, who is also the dean of the Seattle Culinary Academy.
A universal recipe, informational training and locally sourced ingredients provide consistency in each batch of bread.
Kehrli hosts virtual classes to coach first-time bakers. She said support is ingrained in the organization.
“The intent is to empower people to be successful at this,” she said.
Earlier this month, Everett-based nonprofit Housing Hope became the first local beneficiary. Already, more than 100 loaves have been delivered from the Everett group of about 15 volunteers.
Sonia Siegel Vexler, a volunteer baker from Snohomish, proposed donating the bread made by locals to Housing Hope. Before, all bread made in Everett was sent south to support food banks in King County.
Kehrli was quick to hear Vexler’s advice.
“I wanted to bake bread and give it locally, I think we have food insecurity right here in Snohomish County,” Vexler said.
“The bread is wonderful, it smells so good,” said Karen Resing, director of Kindred Kitchen. “It’s just a really great way that these people have come together to try and do something.”
Gerry Betz leads Community Loaves’ Everett hub. Along with baking his own loaves to donate, Betz collects the home-cooked delights from other nearby volunteers and delivers the bread to Housing Hope.
Betz said he needed an outlet for his bread-making itch after retiring last summer from a 40-year baking career.
“It feels like you are giving more when you give five loaves of your bread you spent three to four hours making and learning to bake,” he said.
Even as an expert, Betz said the new ingredients, different recipe and limitations of his home kitchen are a challenge.
As baking bread gained popularity in the pandemic, Betz said involvement in Community Loaves also increased. He mentors a half-dozen amateur bakers through the hurdles, but said a phone call or video chat are imperfect for teaching a tactile task like baking.
“It’s like teaching a doctor to do surgery online,” he said.
Bethany Kline is one of the recent converts.
Kline said she grew up in the kitchen and worked at a bakery in college, but had fallen out of the craft. With more time on her hands, she found the hobby again.
Last month, she discovered Community Loaves, as well as the serendipitous connection between her passion and making a difference.
“My desire to bake is greater than the immediate need we have for what we can get through ourselves,” she said. “There’s lots of ways to volunteer, but it’s pretty rare to do something you love and make an impact in the community.”
Horizon Elementary School teacher-librarian Cathy Bierman began doubling as a Community Loaves baker in November. In her job, Bierman said she has watched food insecurity balloon, especially during the pandemic.
“The need is real,” she said. “ … When I saw (Community Loaves) I thought, ‘Wow, this really takes it to the next level for me,’ because it’s not only donating the tangible, but it is the gift of the intangible, my home to your home kind of thing.”
Bierman said the act of service was about the food, but also making sure families in need know that they aren’t forgotten or invisible.
In her own home, Bierman said food is a language of love. By baking four to six loaves every two weeks, she hopes the recipients will feel a similar connection.
“To me it brings together all the pieces of volunteering and trying to find where you can make your own little, tiny, grain-of-sand difference in all this,” she said.
For more information about how to join or support Community Loaves visit communityloaves.org.