Bill Clinton likes to eat, so when he endorses a bakery, you know it’s good. When the former president praised Chicago’s Sweet Miss Giving’s bakery shortly after it opened last year, he was actually complimenting its mission — to put formerly homeless, HIV-positive people to work — rather than its muffins. Clinton called Sweet Miss Giving’s the “best example” of all the AIDS outreach efforts he’s seen.
The bakery is a project of the nonprofit Chicago House and Social Service Agency. It both generates funds for the agency and provides job training for Chicago House clients. It’s also really tasty. The bakery received one of the Chicago Tribune’s 2010 “Good Eating” citations.
Sweet Miss Giving’s grew out of a job training and placement program Chicago House started in 2005, in recognition that people with HIV are living longer and need employment. The jobs program has served 350 people and achieved a 40% job placement rate, says the Reverend Stan Sloan, Chicago House’s chief executive, but there is a dearth of entry-level jobs. After consultation with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Chicago House decided to open the bakery, offering both work experience and a path to careers. “It’s just so amazing to see [the employees] so excited and so proud,” Sloan says.
Under the management of pastry chef Kristi Gorsuch, Sweet Miss Giving’s offers a six-week training program, followed by a six-month internship, to 60 people at a time. Chicago House owns 51% of the business and gets a commensurate share of the profits; private investors own the remainder.
The bakery sells its cupcakes, cookies, and brownies to more than 50 outlets, including supermarkets, coffee shops, and corporate catering departments, and it opened a retail site in December at a downtown commuter train station.
AJ Wilson is one of the people who have been mixing the eggs and sugar at the Sweet Miss Giving’s kitchen on the city’s North Side. “I like that we get to learn new skills, we get to meet new people, and I just like baking,” says Wilson, who graduated from the internship program in March and now hopes to find work in food service or administration.