A Reflection on (almost) One Year of Business
At Lucy J’s Bakery, located in Crosstown Concourse, we hope to celebrate our first anniversary on September 1st. We are a non-profit operation with a mission to employ parents who are transitioning out of homelessness. The key to this mission is providing employment opportunities where Memphians earn an hourly wage of $15 and receive a medical plan. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to taste some of Lucy J’s delicious treats, especially the lemon blueberry croissant pocket!
We want to share some of the lessons we have learned during our first year of operation.
1. $15/Hour is not enough. We need to change our language because it is not a “living wage” for most families. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the living wage calculation for a single parent with 2 children is $25.58/hour. Even with a 2-parent household with 2 children shows that both parents need to earn $14.06/hour or a combined $28.12. See more here: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/47157. We chose to start at this hourly wage to join the Fight for $15. We feel if we are going to talk the talk and stand in solidarity with so many who are advocating for, fighting for, striking for, and marching for higher wages, then we have to walk the walk. A wage of $15/hour is a step in the right direction.
Before we opened, we had years of experience in restaurant management. We consulted other restaurant managers. We did our homework. We knew what industry standards were, but we chose to participate in a new and more just scenario. We are working to create the new normal — a normal where employees earn a wage that supports their families, as well as the dignity that comes with learning new skills and feeling valued as individuals.
From a business perspective, while still remaining competitive in market prices, the higher employee wage means that a higher percentage of our revenue is allocated to labor. From an employee’s perspective, higher wages result in a drastic cut in government assistance such as SNAP benefits and childcare vouchers. Many see that cut as a benefit. Ultimately, we see that independence as a goal, yet are well aware that $15/hour isn’t enough to pay for housing, food, transportation and the myriad of daily family necessities. In our experience, the cliff effect that takes place when parents accept higher wages and lose government benefits is best supported by community.
2. Community is vital. We are fortunate to be the flip side of the coin in the work of the Dorothy Day House. The DDH provides transitional housing and support services to homeless families. While families live in the Dorothy Day House, they receive basic necessities as well as all that is needed to get back on their feet. During the past year, Lucy J’s employed 5 current and former DDH parents. Because of the relationships we build with DDH families, we are able to assist employees with work schedules, school schedules, childcare, transportation, and other issues. Additionally, when the $15 per hour wage results in an employee’s loss of government assistance, the DDH assists with food, diapers, toiletries, etc. The community that has been established between the two organizations and all involved builds relationships that long withstand the time families may stay at the DDH or be employed with the bakery.
3. Hope like crazy. We could have given up on this dream long before it became a reality. So many naysayers told us that it would never work. Maybe it won’t! However, we have made the decision to, as a friend recently said, “hope like crazy.” And that is exactly what we are doing. We will continue to hope like crazy, pray like crazy, and work like crazy.
On the difficult days, my husband, Josh, or I will make an off-hand remark that “there has to be an easier way to earn a living.” Yes, we’re sure there are easier ways! But we’ve chosen to give our lives to something that will benefit the greater community while providing the public with uniquely delicious baked goods. We’ve chosen to spend our time doing what gives meaning to the way we spend our days. This dream is bigger than any one of us involved, so we are going to be crazy!
Where do we go from here? We must continue to fight the fight one day at a time. If $15/hour is not enough, then the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour is a joke. Even other positions of $10-$11 hourly wages is just enough to keep families reliant on unreliable government assistance.
Lucy J’s Bakery is a collaborative mission with the Dorothy Day House. Lucy J’s is a 501C3 nonprofit organization. As such, we are working to help homeless families become independent by learning a skill, gaining work experience and moving on to even better jobs after they leave Lucy J’s. If you would like to support our work, please purchase treats at the shop or donate at https://www.gofundme.com/support-living-wages-15-at-a-time.
Dorothy Day said, “One of the greatest evils of the day among those outside the proximity of the suffering poor is their sense of futility. Young people say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the action of the present moment but we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us. When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.'”
The mission of Lucy J's Bakery is to provide job training and employment with living wages for parents who are working to transition out of homelessness. Lucy J's works with the Dorothy Day House to provide employment for current or former families. The Dorothy Day House provides transitional housing and support services for homeless families. We have learned over the years of working with the Dorothy Day House that parents need (1) a living wage to support their families, (2) access to healthcare, (3) education/job training, and (4) a stable work history and professional reference for future employment. Lucy J's is supporting these needs by providing a job opportunity where employees earn $15/hour, receive a health plan through Church Health, learn skills through various positions in the bakery, and establish a relationship with an employer who will provide a reliable referral for future employment.