July 01, 2016
Fred Domke is the recipient of the 2016 Social Justice Award. This year because two outstanding nominations were received, two awards were given - one for laity and one for clergy. Domke received the laity award. He worships at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church. In 2011, Rev. Kathleen Wilder held an eight-week discussion series on the ethical issues of poverty.
Afterward, Domke was driven by the question of, “now what?” As an entrepreneur himself, he landed on the notion of social enterprise. Social enterprises are ventures that advance their primary social or environmental mission using business methods.
The group’s first social enterprise venture resulted in Bridge Bread (www.bridgebread.org) in September 2011, and the business has grown a startling 50 percent each year, allowing Domke to hire bakers who are housing insecure and give them steadier employment and a workplace that cares about their future. For every 110 loaves sold each week, Bridge Bread is able to put one person to work —which means one less person living on the street.
Domke says that the real purpose of Bridge Bread “is not about making bread. It’s about making jobs. It’s about giving people employment that matters. It’s about letting them do something that they’re proud of — and let me tell you something, these guys make great bread!”
Last July, Bridge Bread opened its first retail shop, a 300-square-foot storefront on St. Louis’ Cherokee Street. Currently six full-time bakers are on staff working out of their bakery in the Carondelet neighborhood. About three-quarters of the income from sales goes to the bakers in wages, taxes, and benefits. About one quarter covers the cost of ingredients. At this time, rent, utilities, insurance and other costs are covered by donations. As Bridge Bread grows, they expect to be able to cover those costs from sales income and use donations to expand the program. Domke has hope to open a second retail shop in the South Grand area with 20 or more bakers. Bridge Bread products are served in about 25 area churches every weekend; at Lucky’s Market in Rock Hill and on the menus at nearby eateries.
Not only has Domke moved into social justice through actively pursuing economic justice for St. Louis’ homeless community, he and his wife, Sharon, and volunteers also help bakers find housing through HomeFirst STL (www.homefirststl.org) , take care of outstanding warrants, secure bus passes and more!
Domke has a heart for justice and as a businessman, he has transformed how he sees financial profits into sustainable employment for marginalized and vulnerable yet highly talented and skilled people. His exploration of social enterprise ventures and the witness of a lived discipleship makes him an excellent candidate for the Social Justice Award.
Domke wasn’t present, because this weekend he was in the process of expanding Bridge Bread to a second location in downtown St. Charles. The new location is expected to provide full-time employment for three more people.