Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 3:22 pm | Fair 76º

 
 
 
 

Casa Esperanza Cooks Up Plan to Fatten Its Budget

With a helping hand from Social Venture Partners, the shelter launches 'The Good Cookie' baking project to generate revenue and job training

Changing the world, one cookie at a time.

That’s the mantra of a new effort to help fund Santa Barbara’s largest homeless shelter and community kitchen. With the launch of “The Good Cookie,” Casa Esperanza’s development director, Rob Grayson, says he’s hopeful that the combination of baking and entrepreneurship will help the shelter’s bottom line — and create job skills for those involved.

It all started one year ago, when the shelter was facing a deficit of about $500,000. Grayson was giving a tour of the shelter to a prospective donor when he realized the kitchen wasn’t being used all the time.

The Community Kitchen prepares about 650 meals per day to serve to those in need, but after three full-time staff members are done with those duties about 6 p.m., the kitchen is unused.

That got Grayson, a former cooking school teacher, thinking about creating a product that could help with the shelter’s budget issues. He spent a few hours in his kitchen baking, and then created a mock-up of what the group would sell. He brought the cookies, neatly packaged, to Casa Esperanza’s board meeting, and Grayson said the members embraced the idea.

After approaching Social Ventures Partners Santa Barbara, Casa Esperanza received a $31,000 grant. But the money was just the start, because “they didn’t just stop at giving us the money,” Grayson said.

SVP worked on assembling a team to assist Grayson and his effort. After helping the entrepreneur look at things such as budgets and forecasting, the assistance turned even more specific and included input from two women with experience running their own cookie business.

Janis Peace, who previously owned Kindred Cookies, stepped up to become the project’s head baker, and her daughter Betsy works in sales.

Now, depending on demand, Grayson and other workers are in the kitchen five nights a week for about five hours each night.

Eventually, the program will serve as a conduit for job training for Casa members, which Grayson hopes will take place within the next six months.

All of the profits go directly back into the shelter and its food program. Grayson said he’s excited about the social change the project will help bring about.

With names such as “Chocolate Chip’n in” and “Peanut Butter Days Ahead,” the line is focused on providing opportunities for those in need. Four flavors of the cookies are available at Tri-County Produce, Montecito Village Market, Pierre Lafond and Cantwell’s Market and Deli.

While the cookies are already selling at a handful of local establishments, more are on the way — including the local Whole Foods branch. And the group has its sights set on going national.

“If Betsy has her way, it won’t just be the Santa Barbara Whole Foods,” Grayson said.

As of Tuesday morning, two of the local retailers already had sold out of the cookies, according to Social Ventures Partner chairwoman Laurie Ashton.

The Santa Barbara Foundation’s Ron Gallo said the group was ecstatic to support the launch. The project went from an idea to implementation in about six months, he said, adding that the group was looking forward to the results.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider also was on hand Tuesday. “We’re breaking the mold, in terms of creating change,” she said, and echoed her support of the idea going national.

Volunteers are still needed in each part of the business, which range from baking to sales and marketing. Anyone interested in volunteering can call Grayson at 805.884.0123.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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