FLINT, Michigan—What is it about donuts? Sure, it's an early morning sweet. It's simple. It’s easy to make, and at its core, its a community food, said Dallas Gatlin, executive director of Carriage Town Ministries.
Here, donuts and other baked goods are also a vehicle to transitional employment. Carriage Town, a homeless shelter and emergency services provider, opened its bakery two years offering job training, work experience and a path toward self-sufficiency.
Because the mission of Carriage Town Ministries is as much about creating an environment of change as it is about creating jobs — Gatlin’s vision kept expanding. Now, he has set his sights on revitalizing a chronically blighted space at 604 Garland Street with the sole purpose of bringing people together and adding new life to the neighborhood.
Located just down from Carriage Town Ministries and behind The Local Grocer, this will be the new home of Carriage Town Bakery featuring Blueline Donuts in 2021.
"That's really placemaking —It's creating a place where the neighborhood can gather, the city can be proud of it, over time it can develop a reputation ... provide opportunity," Gatlin said.
Over the past two years, the bakery has gained local familiarity, forming partnerships with Fosters coffee and Kettering University to put their baked goods in the hands of patrons on their way to work and students who need a quick breakfast. The bakery currently functions out of the Carriage Town Ministries cafeteria, where donuts are prepared as early as 4 a.m. and out for sale from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
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The new storefront on Garland Street will undergo $950,000 in renovations to provide a space for folks from multiple stations of life to become better acquainted. Gatlin hopes that by breaking sugared bread together, they will build an environment of acceptance and understanding. The project revitalizes the long-empty former auto repair building at the University Avenue corner.
"We want the Flint Police Department, the first responders, the UM police department...we want them to know they are welcome here," said Gatlin. "But we want them to understand our residents. We want them to understand that our residents are good people.”
With an upswing in the job market, Gatlin said there's been a decrease in visible homelessness — but there's a catch. Providing shelter and a job is only half of the equation; it takes job training and ultimately relationships to create new opportunity.
“You also have to be prepared to take advantage of that job market.” said Gatlin. “Even now somebody making minimum wage — even two people in a household making minimum wage — are going to have a tough time making it.”
Since launching Blue Line Donuts in 2017, Gatlin and his team have completed 150 hours of interview research asking clients to help identify the particular ingredients that can get a chronically unemployed individual off the streets.
He noticed a trend in the analysis: Nobody did it alone.
"Their stay might be six months. It might be six weeks. It might be two years. … If you're 18 years old and you stopped your education, you might need to be here for two years, three years while you find your education and find a sense of family you didn't have before."
At the core of Carriage Town services is a mentorship through its Personal Success Plan program. It’s time flexible, designed to equip residents with the skills and resources needed to transition into the workforce.
At Carriage Town Bakery, trainees complete the program with a letter of recommendation and with ServSafe certification. Past trainees can be found working at BJ’s Donut Shop, to Dawn Donuts in Grand Blanc, or even right within Carriage Town Ministries itself.
The new storefront will provide job training for six to eight employees on everything from baking and to waiting counters.
Some Carriage Town Ministry residents have felony charges, said Gatlin, being able to give a reference can not only increase one’s chance of employability, but continuing to grow those industry partnerships. He’s now looking to further the bakery’s relationship with the Mott Culinary Institute and Mott Community College to give trainees the opportunity to earn their associate’s degrees.
Of course, the bakery also is about creating a tasty goods. Whether it be a donut, brownie, or speciality cake, Gatlin said Carriage Town Bakery customers know that their treats are being prepared by those who are turning their lives around.
"People who are internally motivated to work with other people to achieve health, safety, security, and prosperity in a neighborhood,” said Gatlin. “That can be contagious because the fact that it's happening makes other people want to be a part of it."
Related story: Dallas Gatlin gives hope to the homeless at Carriage Town Ministries
Carriage Town Bakery is best known for its Blueline Donuts, but also offers brownies, speciality cakes and other goods.