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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 association’s Community Table Kitchen. The industrial-size baking sheets are filled with silky smooth batter, which will become 216 boxes of hand-wrapped brownies. Aromas of cocoa, vanilla and raspberry waft through the kitchen air as the treats are cooked to perfection and cooled before being cut, packaged in gift boxes and shipped to local customers in Denver and in all the countries.
Danconias truffle brownies are made by people who have experienced housing insecurity. Boulder-based Bridge House, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is working to reduce homelessness in the Denver-Boulder metro area through programs like Community Table Kitchen. This food-focused program encompasses four social enterprises: Danconias Truffle Brownies; CTK Cafe, caterer for public and private events; and wholesale, affordable takeout.
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 one-year program, interns live in dormitory-style housing and work 30 hours per week for hourly pay in Community Table Kitchen or for a landscaping and sanitation crew. “It’s a job-focused model. The country has now heard of a Housing First model to address homelessness, but we are taking it one step further,” says Scott Medina, community relations director at Bridge House. “This is a lasting change for people living in a traumatic situation.”
In Community Table Kitchen’s brownie program, participants whip up gooey treats in flavors such as raspberry, blonde cherry and chocolate orange. Under the culinary direction of head chef John Trejo, a long-time culinary veteran who has worked with Wolfgang Puck and other well-known professionals, most of the work in the kitchen is done by Ready to Work interns or program graduates like Blockberger. , who was hired as a permanent employee.
“It provided me with a structured environment for me to actually track my sobriety. I tried before and it was never successful,” says Blockberger. “I was able to have that stability that I didn’t have at the start of the program and basically relearn new habits and new skills to be successful while I’m sober.”
Community Table Kitchen equips work-ready interns with job skills that could lead to employment opportunities that may be unimaginable for homeless people. In the kitchen, participants have the opportunity to be cooks, bakers, packers and shippers. Participants also prepare food for other nonprofit organizations that do not have their own commercial kitchens, including Motherhouse, Community Food Share, and Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA). Being part of the kitchen team helps individuals gain expertise and builds team camaraderie, and helps build their self-esteem and sense of purpose by preparing delicious meals and giving back to their communities.
Community Table Kitchen social enterprises use profits from the kitchen as revenue to fund and support Bridge House’s Ready to Work program. “Thanks to these social enterprises, we don’t have to ask so much directly for financial donations,” says Medina. “We can actually give people something good in return, which in this case is good food.”
Over 250 people have participated in the Ready to Work program, which has a 75% success rate. This means that three out of five participants graduate with the skills and resources to find their own housing and full-time 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 a total of 94 interns at its two locations in Boulder and Aurora. It will also open a third location in Englewood early next year.
To support Bridge House’s Ready to Work program, you can visit the CTK Cafe located near BCH Hospital in Boulder; rent Community Table Kitchen to organize your next event; or purchase a box of Danconias Truffle Brownies as mission-oriented gifts for clients, birthdays, or holidays. The truffle brownie program has over 14 flavors to choose from, including salted caramel, cocoa creme brulee, and espresso. Gift boxes can be shipped nationwide and are also available at the Boulder Cafe.