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Meeting a Knead in Atlanta's Refugee Community

Just Bakery of Atlanta employs resettled refugees and helps them attain a firmer economic footing.
Just Bakery of Atlanta employs resettled refugees and helps them attain a firmer economic footing.

“The whole world comes to you if you can come and be in this place.”

The place to which Leah Lonsbury is referring is Clarkston, Georgia. Many immigrants settle in Clarkston from truly all over the world – people from 50 countries across six continents – seeking to build a new life for themselves and their families. Because half of the residents in Clarkston are foreign born, a vibrant ethnic diversity and convergence of cultural practices defines the city. Come, and meet the whole world.

Bhima, Just Bakery’s assistant kitchen manager, lived in a Nepalese refugee camp for 17 years before immigrating to the United States. Click here to watch a video to learn more about what working for Just Bakery means to her.

But beneath that beauty and promise often lies struggle. As refugees work to achieve economic stability in their new home, they are often met with obstacles. At best, many have their education cut short or interrupted in the process of migration. But many receive no formal education. Without such credentials, not to mention the language barrier, many refugees struggle to gain access to jobs. And if they do secure one, it is likely to pay them far less than a living wage. This is a reality for many refugees in Clarkston, confirmed by the unusually high unemployment rate of 31.5 percent. 

What if this chronic problem of access could be alleviated? 

Lonsbury has responded in a unique and innovative way with the creation of Just Bakery of Atlanta. When she founded the bakery in 2017 to sit at “the crossroads of feeding people and creating justice in the world,” Lonsbury had a vision: to employ resettled refugees and help them attain a firmer economic footing. Her atypical business model provides job training, a professional bakery and small-business management certification and pays employees $15 an hour. Just Bakery also offers flexible business hours for those with families and small children. 

Lorrie King, program manager for the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s reached out to Lonsbury with the possibility of a grant that would help Just Bakery continue to grow into its vision. “Leah and her team were stepping up where others were resigned to the status quo,” King said. “What they were doing fit perfectly with our Livelihoods portfolio, which seeks to provide grant support for programs of vocational and small-business training, financial literacy and microlending.” At nearly $100,000, the UMCOR grant will support Just Bakery’s job training and certification program, a storefront build-out and even a van for making deliveries.

Your gifts on UMCOR Sunday helps support lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God’s love with communities everywhere.

At the moment, Just Bakery is operating from a church kitchen. The small-but-mighty crew sells their baked goods at farmer’s markets and festivals around Atlanta and, occasionally, through pop-up sales. 

“The UMCOR grant will allow us to go the next step,” continued Lonsbury. She is excited that the employees can offer their baked goods daily and for the bakery to be “a front-facing place with a regular presence in the community.” A space to claim as their own will also allow Just Bakery’s business model to expand into opportunities for retail training, giving its employees yet another skill to use in their resettlement phase and beyond. But Lonsbury dreams big, so she would love to see Just Bakery meet even more needs in the wider community like doubling as a gathering space for fellow refugees and hosting events for local nonprofits. 

UMCOR looks forward to seeing the ways in which this grant will further the mission of Just Bakery to be a compassionate and life-giving resource for refugees making Atlanta home. “I am excited to follow their star,” said King, “and continue our partnership however we are able.”

Sara Logeman, content strategist for Global Ministries.

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God’s love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR’s “costs of doing business.” This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.