Altamont Bakery offers support for mental health struggles
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — More than a year ago, Sabrina Budde was living in her apartment, but not doing much else. She said she was sleeping a lot and couldn’t take care of her own needs.
She receives mental health services from Family and Children’s Services. It was through F&CS that she learned about the Altamont Bakery, a commercial enterprise where the mentally ill work alongside volunteers to make and bake cookies admired by foodies, cookie lovers and dessert connoisseurs.
For Budde, who has professional pastry arts training from Platt College, it was a match made in confectionery heaven. She’s been working there for more than a year.
“I have experience in cake decorating,” she said to The Journal Record . “That was always something I really enjoyed.”
The bakery is operated out of the The SynagogueCongregation B’nai Emunah. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the mostly volunteer team baked more than 2,000 cookies, with people working weekends as well. During this year’s holiday season, the bakery had about seven new corporate customers placing orders compared with last season.
“People who had the cookies this season want to give them to their clients,” said Nancy Cohen, bakery director and oven master.
Four employees are part of the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma’s Employment First program, which works with other mental-health providers such as F&CS in Tulsa to find jobs for people facing challenges.
Budde said since she started working at the bakery, she has lost weight. She stands a lot and is happier with herself. When she was decorating cakes, she did all the work by herself. That’s not the case at Altamont.
“You get to meet people,” she said. “It’s satisfying. You work hard and you get to feel the reward of that. You’re not wasting your time.”
Employment First Director Kellie Wilson said the seven- to eight-hour days, even if it is only once a week, give the MHAO employees a chance to get out and see people.
“It makes them feel good about themselves,” she said. “It gives them a social and supportive atmosphere.”
If a cookie comes out that’s more hockey puck than cookie, that’s OK. Cohen is patient and tells the crew they can bake more. She helps foster a nurturing and safe environment. There’s no yelling about mess-ups. Cookies can be remade.
Altamont specializes in four flavors: chocolate with chocolate chip called fudgies, oatmeal raisin, lemon, and traditional chocolate chip. The synagogue’s kitchen turns into a bakery assembly line, with one table where the dough is mixed and another table where the cookies are put onto sheets. The large, commercial-style ovens were donated by a member of the synagogue. With the two ovens, they can bake 110 cookies at one time.
Preston Cannon said he likes working in the bakery because it puts him in a better mood in the mornings. He has worked at bakeries in other coffee shops. He said the people at Altamont are nicer.
“It’s a good environment to work in,” he said.
The money raised by selling the cookies goes back into the program. Altamont writes a check to MHAO, which then pays its employees.
Wilson said these bakers may soon get another chance to show their skills when the organization opens its own coffee shop in its building at Legacy Plaza. She said the coffee shop will hopefully open in 2019.
While Wilson works on that project, she also has to help keep the four MHAO spots filled at the bakery. When a spot comes open, it’s advertised on the Employment First area of the website. Word is sent out to the organization’s housing complexes as well.
Applicants go through a group interview before they’re hired. Cohen said the bakery is like a family, so everyone should have a say in who will be the next family member.
“That feeling of importance has never happened to them,” Wilson said. “They get to talk and be part of the discussion.”
But people facing mental-health challenges can also have trouble getting themselves to work. So some days the bakery is shorthanded, but the work still gets done.
The cookies are sold in the Tulsa metro and can be purchased at the new Gathering Place park, Circle Cinema, and several hospitals, car dealerships, and coffee shops. There’s no delivery to Oklahoma City yet. Since there are no preservatives in the baked goods, the shelf life is about a week, Cohen said.
But that cooking-making is helping make the world a better place, as Cohen sees it. It’s certainly improved Budde’s world. She said she likes the days when some people don’t show. She said she grew up working hard, which she said was the best part of her life.
“It’s a gratifying feeling,” she said. “When I’m working with my hands, it keeps my mind from thinking too much.”
Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com