Spe­cial-needs work­ers keep kosher bak­ery run­ning

KOSHER BAK­ERY’S MIS­SION GOES WELL BE­YOND ‘LEG­ENDARY’ CHAL­LAH

Greenwich Time (Sunday) - - SUNDAY ARTS & STYLE - By Brian Koonz

Becca Nis­sim wears the joy of her job with an easy smile and wispy badges of flour dec­o­rat­ing her chef ’s coat. A few steps away, Kathryn Camp­bell rolls balls of choco­late into a bowl of pow­dered sugar, each con­fec­tion an as­pir­ing choco­late crin­kle. Across the ta­ble, Hil­lary Lip­per gen­tly presses balls of cin­na­mon-sprin­kled dough into fu­ture snick­er­doo­dles, each one a hand­made prom­ise await­ing ful­fill­ment.

This is the magic recipe of Crumb To­gether Bak­ery, a new job train­ing and so­cial en­gage­ment pro­gram for adults with spe­cial needs. The kosher bak­ery is run by Cir­cle of Friends, a Nor­walk non­profit that pro­vides in­clu­sive pro­grams for chil­dren and adults with spe­cial needs.

“Re­gard­less of their role, ev­ery sin­gle per­son in the bak­ery feels a sense of ac­com­plish­ment and pur­pose,” says Freida Hecht, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cir­cle of Friends. “That’s not a ‘spe­cial need.’ It’s an ‘ev­ery­one need.’ We all want to feel like we’re con­tribut­ing and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. It’s part of the hu­man con­di­tion.”

It’s this hu­man­ity that drew Nis­sim, a culi­nary grad­u­ate of John­son & Wales Univer­sity, to Crumb To­gether Bak­ery. Af­ter spend­ing the last decade work­ing as a line cook, pas­try chef, kitchen man­ager and baker at sev­eral lo­cal restau­rants, Nis­sim wanted more. She found it as ex­ec­u­tive baker and in­struc­tor at Crumb To­gether Bak­ery.

As Nis­sim over­sees the cre­ation of th­ese trans­for­ma­tive cook­ies, she teaches, en­cour­ages and con­nects. Most of all, Nis­sim flashes that easy smile, the one that re­flex­ively makes ev­ery­one else smile, too.

Part of Nis­sim’s job is to make sure Camp­bell, Lip­per and the other em­ploy­ees un­der­stand how to fol­low the recipes at the bak­ery, which op­er­ates out of the kitchen at Beth Is­rael Chabad, 40 King St., Nor­walk. Con­sis­tency and uni­for­mity are es­sen­tial to qual­ity, she ex­plains.

“Ev­ery­thing is a lot of rep­e­ti­tion, but it’s so amaz­ing to watch ev­ery­one when they get it,” says Nis­sim, 26, a Fair­field res­i­dent. “When some­one has been strug­gling with some­thing — but they keep work­ing at it and work­ing at it, and then you see a light bulb go off — that’s the best part.”

On this par­tic­u­lar morn­ing, the white pa­per taped to the wall near the re­frig­er­a­tor shows a ro­bust pro­duc­tion sched­ule for 136 choco­late crin­kles, 125 snick­er­doo­dles and six “leg­endary” chal­lahs as Hecht calls the braided bread made here. The staff has two shifts to com­plete the job.

For now, Crumb To­gether only ac­cepts tele­phone or­ders and on­line or­ders at crumbto­gether.org for pickup. A batch of cook­ies or a one-pound chal­lah costs $9. A six-week chal­lah mem­ber­ship is avail­able for $100 that in­cludes two chal­lahs per week.

“Ev­ery­one loves to bake be­cause ev­ery­one loves to taste,” Hecht said. “We know par­ents of­ten won­der what’s go­ing to hap­pen to their chil­dren once they age-out of ser­vices as young adults: What will they do? What can they do?”

Crumb To­gether an­swers those ques­tions each time Nis­sim turns on the oven. A few weeks ago, more than 100 peo­ple from Nor­walk, Fair­field and other com­mu­ni­ties at­tended a grand open­ing to see — and taste — for them­selves.

Hecht, the wife of Bethel Is­rael Chabad Rabbi Ye­hoshua Hecht, refers to an es­pe­cially poignant quote by the Jewish philoso­pher Mai­monides: “The high­est form of giv­ing is giv­ing some­one the means to sup­port them­selves.”

For Lip­per, who lives in West­port and turned 23 on Thanks­giv­ing, a white apron and a hair net are so much greater than the sum of their parts. They rep­re­sent a uni­form of pride and pur­pose.

“I’m mak­ing new friends and I’m mak­ing de­li­cious things,” she says. “I like to come here and bake.”

For the 26-year-old Camp­bell, a We­ston res­i­dent, the bak­ery is an ex­ten­sion of the culi­nary arts cour­ses she took at nearby Sta­ples High School.

“This is a bak­ing class. Please write that down in your notebook,” Camp­bell in­structs a vis­i­tor. “We make choco­late crin­kles and snick­er­doo­dles. I en­joy it very much, thank you.”

The work­ers can also earn their ServSafe cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from the Na­tional Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion by fol­low­ing pro­to­cols for safety, hy­giene and other best prac­tices. The teach­able mo­ments are ev­ery­where, even for Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity se­niors Melissa Weaver and Teresa Salzillo, who act as job coaches.

“I had never worked at a bak­ery be­fore, so I’m learn­ing right along­side ev­ery­one,” Weaver says. “I love the in­ter­ac­tion and con­ver­sa­tions.”

Camp­bell, Lip­per and the other em­ploy­ees with spe­cial needs are in the mi­nor­ity. Ac­cord­ing to U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor fig­ures, 75 per­cent of adults with spe­cial needs are un­em­ployed.

“I’d like to see ev­ery com­mu­nity cen­ter and ev­ery house of wor­ship have a Cir­cle of Friends and a Crumb To­gether Bak­ery,” says Hecht, adding that Bill and An­drea Pecoriello of West­port have been vi­tal to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s suc­cess. “How do you judge a coun­try? By how it treats its most vul­ner­a­ble.”

The tagline for Crumb To­gether Bak­ery is “Al­ways Ris­ing.” One look around the kitchen here con­firms it.

“Bread is al­ways ris­ing,” Hecht says. “Peo­ple are al­ways ris­ing, too.”

Brian Koonz / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Group

Left, Kathryn Camp­bell at Crumb To­gether Bak­ery rolls a choco­late crin­kle cookie ball in pow­dered sugar be­fore bak­ing while, above, Becca Nas­sim, an in­struc­tor and the bak­ery’s ex­ec­u­tive baker, mixes the dough for chal­lah bread. Be­low, the scent of cin­na­mon fills the air as Melissa Weaver, a Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity se­nior, re­moves a tray of snick­er­doo­dles from the oven.

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