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Feature Fri Feb 11 2011
"It's a nice way to give back, and all you have to do is eat a cupcake," says Dana Lieberman, COO of Sweet Miss Giving's, a bakery and job skill training organization whose profits support Chicago House, a support residence for people living with HIV that provides housing, health counseling, and education.
A little sugar goes a long way: Sweet Miss Giving's runs a job-training program out of their Near North Side headquarters for at-risk disabled adults that teaches baking and general work skills, from how to work in a kitchen to delivering items and knowing good customer service techniques. The two-year-old program receives applications from those referred from a range of places--social agencies, case workers, Chicago House itself--who undergo a four-week unpaid training stage followed by six months of paid interning in the Sweet Miss Giving's kitchen. All who join the program must have minimal education skills and stable housing. Graduates have gone on to work in hospitality, food service, and customer service jobs in other industries.
The bakery has a retail stall at the French Market, which has proven to be a successful change for the organization and an added learning opportunity for its interns to gain added customer service skills. Perhaps you've seen the Sweet Miss Giving's cupcake truck, which can be tracked online alongside their growing brothers and sisters in the burgeoning mobile food market; according to Lieberman, the truck has made stops all over the city, from Rogers to Hyde Parks, and has proven to be a positive experience for getting the message out about what Sweet Miss Giving's is doing for others. Other than feeding grateful customers, of course.
But about the food...yes, the cupcakes, brownies and cookies I pored over made me the pre-Valentine's Day hero in the office, but philanthropy aside, this place can make a fantastic mess of sugar. The oversized cupcakes and assorted yums are obviously made with solid ingredients, and while their offerings are traditional, it's not a bad thing--I took a liking to their ginger molasses cookie, and I interrupted my coworker lovingly dissecting her German chocolate brownie at her desk like a surgeon readying herself for transplant (like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, everyone eats cupcakes in different ways). The portions are massive, just in time for Valentine's Day gifts and Saint Patrick's Day, when their red velvet cupcakes turn green for pairing with a Guinness (tee hee). Their prices are quite reasonable for the individual treats to their catering offerings; $3 for the softball-sized cupcake, $30 for a tray of sweets that serves 9-12 people.
The bakery began as the brainchild of Stan Sloan, an Episcopalian priest who wanted to create a series of job training programs for residents of Chicago House (where he has served as longtime CEO). With help from seed money donors and government grants, as well as volunteers from industry and academia, Sweet Miss Giving's was born in 2008.
Those donors and volunteers did a nice turn for Sweet Miss Giving's; recently, the organization transitioned from giving half to all of their profits to Chicago House--a real victory for Lieberman and her professional staff of 14 pastry chefs who oversee the intern training and bakery production. Along with the cupcake truck, French Market location, and the popular training program, the organization looks forward to giving more opportunities to help those going through difficult times. Or those who just need a sugar rush.