Yes, their sweets and treats are delicious, but the folks at South Fork Bakery are doing so much more than just baking.
Founded by Noyac resident Shirley Ruch in 2016, the bakery helps adults with developmental disabilities, assisting them with something the vast majority of us will eventually have to do: Find a job.
With a masters in speech and language pathology, Ruch has practiced as a family coach for over 30 years, specializing in working with children with autism. Over the years, many of her students faced issues finding meaningful employment, whether they were graduating from college or aging out of high school. After hearing the frustrations of both parents and students alike, Ruch founded South Fork Bakery, set with the mission to provide its employees with the necessary training and skills to get a job.
“I’ve always used baking and cooking therapeutically,” Ruch says. “I saw it as a great way to hone and develop communication skills. It’s a real hands-on, collaborative effort.”
Ruch’s bakery started with six employees and one professional baker to guide them, their confections then crafted out of the kitchen at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Since then, the bakery—which became a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit in 2018—has grown to employ 16 individuals, and the operation moved to the larger commercial kitchen at Scoville Hall inside the First Presbyterian Church in Amagansett.
Presently, employees are mostly East End residents between the ages of 21 to 45. They are required to be at the bakery for a minimum of three months, where they earn minimum wage and their paychecks are taxed appropriately. Tasks for workers include creating, packaging, and shipping the baked goods, with some orders reaching well beyond the East End.
“We’ve shipped to pretty much everywhere in the United States,” Ruch says. “Our baked goods are locally available in stores from Montauk to Westhampton Beach, and most recently Dix Hills.”
Now, Ruch is working with Stony Brook University’s Food Business Incubator in Calverton to provide them with employees from the bakery. Known as the “Calverton Kitchen,” it provides shared kitchens, storage and separate rooms in support of food start-ups on the East End.
“We are working with individual businesses there who need help,” Ruch says. “Two employees worked for the company Chewma [a company that makes savory protein bites] and while they were working at Calverton I connected with other businesses who were interested in having South Fork Bakery employees work for them.”
Currently, Ruch is in the process of making employee matches for those positions. Employees will be sent with a job coach, and according to Ruch, a transition specialist to insure they are set up for success with the necessary accommodations and support for the retention of their job.
“The transition specialist will also communicate regularly with the employee to make certain they are satisfied with the work being performed,” she says. “We have checklists and forms to facilitate evaluation of employee performance by the employer as well as for self-evaluation.”
This past year alone, the bakery has been able to place six individuals in jobs here on the East End.
As spring approaches, Ruch, her colleagues and employees at the bakery are gearing up for what’s sure to be a busy season. This means more time in the kitchen at Scoville Hall, creating thousands of baked goods from cookies and brownies to cake pops and gluten free power bars. The bakery’s goods can be found at local farmers markets on weekends beginning in May as well as in dozens of stores across the North and South Forks. Check out what’s cooking and order online by clicking here.
“This is a very supported environment,” Ruch says. “All of these people have something to contribute and this is a great way to show the community they can work. It’s wonderful to see them blossoming.”