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At 8 a.m. every Monday, Jayson Blockberger prepares for production day at Bridge House, where he oversees brownie-making operations for the nonprofit’s Community Table Kitchen. Industrial-size baking trays are filled with silky batter, which will become 216 hand-packed boxes of brownies. Aromas of cocoa, vanilla, and raspberry mingle in the kitchen air as the goodies are baked to chewy perfection and cooled before they are cut, packaged in gift boxes, and shipped to customers locally in Denver and nationwide.
The Danconias Truffle Brownies are made by individuals who have experienced housing insecurity. Boulder-based Bridge House—which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year—works to alleviate homelessness in the Denver-Boulder metro area via programs such as Community Table Kitchen. That food-focused program encompasses four social enterprises: Danconias Truffle Brownies; CTK Cafe, catering for public and private events; and wholesale, affordable take-and-bake meals.
Community Table Kitchen is part of Bridge House’s Ready to Work initiative, a fully integrated combination of paid work, on-site housing, and support that aims to break the cycles of homelessness, incarceration, and chronic unemployment. During the year-long program, trainees live in dormitory-style housing and work 30 hours per week for an hourly wage in Community Table Kitchen or for a landscaping and sanitation crew. “It’s an employment-first model. The country has now heard about a housing-first model to deal with homelessness, but we take it a step further,” says Scott Medina, director of community relations at Bridge House. “This is sustainable change for people who have been living in a traumatic situation.”
In Community Table Kitchen’s brownie program, participants whip up fudgy treats in flavors such as raspberry, cherry blondie, and chocolate orange. Under the culinary guidance of head chef John Trejo—a longtime culinary veteran who has worked with Wolfgang Puck and other well-known pros—most of the work in the kitchen is done by the Ready to Work trainees, or graduates of the program like Blockberger, who was hired as a permanent employee.
“It provided me with a structure-based environment for me to actually follow through on my sobriety. I tried previously and it was never a success,” Blockberger says. “I was able to have that stability that I didn’t have going into the program and basically relearn new habits and new skills to be successful while I’m sober.”
Community Table Kitchen equips Ready to Work trainees with work skills that could lead to employment opportunities that may be unimaginable to those experiencing homelessness. In the kitchen, participants have the opportunity to be cooks, bakers, packagers, and shippers. Participants also cook food for other nonprofits that don’t have their own commercial kitchens, including the Mother House, Community Food Share, and Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA). Being a part of the kitchen crew helps individuals gain expertise and build team camaraderie—and helps bolster their self-esteem and a sense of purpose by crafting delicious food and giving back to their communities.
The social enterprises in Community Table Kitchen use profits from the kitchen as revenue to fund and support Bridge House’s Ready to Work program. “By having these social enterprises, we don’t need to ask so much directly for just financial donations,” Medina says. “We actually can give people something great in return, which in this case is great food.”
More than 250 individuals have participated in the Ready to Work program, which has a 75 percent success rate. That means that three out of every five participants graduate with the skills and resources to find their own full-time housing and employment after the program. Many are hired at local restaurants or at Boulder Community Hospital (BCH). The program currently has the capacity to house and employ 94 trainees total across its two locations in Boulder and Aurora. It will also open a third site in Englewood early next year.
To support Bridge House’s growing Ready to Work Program, you can visit the CTK Cafe located near BCH hospital in Boulder; hire Community Table Kitchen to cater your next event; or buy a box of Danconias Truffle Brownies as mission-driven gifts for clients, birthdays, or holidays. The truffle brownie program offers over 14 flavors to choose from, including salted caramel, cocoa crème brulée, and espresso. Gift boxes can be shipped nationally and are also available at the cafe in Boulder.