A message from Hot Bread Kitchen’s CEO Leslie Abbey in honor of International Women’s Day
Despite March’s focus on “history,” Women’s History Month is usually forward-looking at Hot Bread Kitchen. This year, we are focused on the present. Current events, including the invasion of Ukraine and continued anti-Asian hate crimes in our own city, have reminded us of one of the key reasons Hot Bread Kitchen exists: throughout history, and still today, people have sought safety and opportunity in New York City. We believe that regardless of background or identity, they deserve both those things and more.
International Women‘s Day has always been a time to refocus our work and recenter our mission. Hot Bread Kitchen sits right at the center of a critical nexus of gender equity, human services, and economic mobility. That’s what brought me to the organization earlier this year and what is driving our strategic plan to become 1,000 Breadwinners Strong over the next three. We believe that in order for women to make history, they need an ecosystem of support that values career training and supportive human services equally. This conviction comes directly from our members, who have told us what they need and whose feedback informs all of our programming.
Our members, like anyone, need access to safe and stable housing, reliable transportation and childcare, healthcare, nourishment, and the skills and technology to communicate in this fast-paced, often virtual world–all fundamental aspects of economic mobility that are often neglected or taken for granted.
“I feel peaceful right now that I can keep up with my rent. I am not worried that I’m going to go back to the shelter system.“Barbara, Hot Bread Kitchen member
Barbara, who joined our culinary training program in 2016, came to Hot Bread Kitchen to find a job, but that wasn’t her only goal. After navigating the New York City shelter system for several years, Barbara hoped to move into a home that was all hers. With support from our program team, Barbara began a customer service role at a well-known bagel shop and secured affordable housing. Shortly after she moved into her own studio apartment, the pandemic disrupted Barbara’s work, so she came to Hot Bread Kitchen for assistance accessing benefits that made it possible for her to keep up with her rent. Last fall, Barbara started a new role doing what she loves: working with customers. “After three years, I still feel like a part of the bigger picture at Hot Bread Kitchen,” she told us. “I met people from all over the world. I appreciate it, I’m eternally grateful.”
Over Hot Bread Kitchen’s nearly 15-year history, we have seen the impact a career path and stable paycheck can have on a woman’s life—and, as Barbara’s story illustrates, that’s not the full picture of economic security. Over the course of my own career, I have seen how the powerful combination of job skills training and human services can foster success and stability for women like Barbara–and, by extension, for whole communities. I have spent twenty years working with families and youth and have witnessed how a singularly focused program nearly always fails vulnerable families. Without housing, it is nearly impossible to hold a job. Without a job, it is nearly impossible to sustain housing. And without social supports–especially for moms who are juggling daily to make it all come together for their families–housing and jobs can disappear in an instant, as soon as an emergency presents itself.
This is why I am so proud of Hot Bread Kitchen’s holistic approach. It is our secret sauce and why it is so important that this organization grow and thrive as we meet more women in neighborhoods across New York City.
There is enormous opportunity to impact thousands of families throughout the five boroughs and provide additional, meaningful support to the immigrant communities and communities of color that are the heart of New York City. I hope to use my experience in human services to guide our team in developing a robust ecosystem of support for and with our members as we expand our job skills training, bridge programming, and human services support. We do all of this work with the help of partners across the city to ensure our members have all they need to build a fulfilling life, however they define it. Support, opportunity, choice–that is how women make history.
PS: If you want to see more Breadwinners like Barbara thrive, there are a few ways you can support our work:
- Make a donation today in honor of Women’s History Month.
- Sponsor our work in creative ways: Our move to Chelsea Market wouldn’t be possible without the inventive support of our partners at Google. We have opportunities to sponsor kitchen equipment, corporate engagement events, culinary upskilling, and more. Get in touch.
- Spread the word—this work really takes a village! Whether you know of a community kitchen in your neighborhood for our culinary training program, a potential Hot Bread Kitchen member, or are simply moved by our mission, we appreciate every share.