By Lauren Young, MetroWest Daily News Staff Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Just before the coronavirus pandemic, Diana Batista started the "Hope Bread fund,",a program that offers free loaves of bread and fresh pastries to anyone who needs it – no questions asked.
When a mother accompanied by her young daughter asked Diana Batista if her bakery had any "Hope Bread" or muffins left, Batista said her heart sank.
She said she could see the mother's embarrassment through her mask.
Batista said her bakery, Main Street Pastries and More, usually doesn't run out of what it calls Hope Bread. But the little girl did not go home empty-handed.
Batista packed up a box of muffins, turnovers, bread and chocolate cupcakes and cookies – the girl's favorite flavor - for them to take home, free of charge.
The mother's voice trembled as she thanked Batista, explaining that she didn't do this often – she just needed some help at the moment. After she left, another customer who was in the store at that time asked to pay for everything Batista just gave away, and added an extra $50 to the bakery's Hope Bread fund.
"I sat in my car afterwards – I was bawling," said Batista, who owns the small bakery at 5 West Main St. that opened last September. "But the thing is," she said, "we get those people all the time."
One of Batista's customers is a pregnant mother with cancer. Another woman came into the bakery for a plate of pastries two days after her husband died. Some older customers attempt to pay with piles of pennies for their morning muffin. The other week, a woman came in for two loaves of bread and her card was declined. She started crying.
"I'm like, 'Don't cry,' " said Batista, a single mother of five kids. "It was tough (being a single mother) ... if it wasn't for people helping me, there's no way I would've survived."
That's why she said none of the customers mentioned above had to – or still have to - pay for their pastries when they stop by.
"I know what it feels like. I've been there," said Batista, wearing a green and pink pastel "Bakers Gonna Bake" apron on Wednesday morning. She grew up in Hudson and has lived in Northboro for three years.
An Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School alumna born to Portuguese parents, Batista worked as a hairdresser for many years after studying cosmetology and starting work at a hair salon cooperative. She needed to use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) benefits at points in her life to feed her family.
It was always a dream of hers to open her own bakery. She calls herself "one of the lucky ones."
"I consider myself very fortunate. Not only did I get out of a hole, but I have great kids, I'm doing what a love, and not many people can say that," she said.
Just before the coronavirus pandemic, Batista started the Hope Bread fund, a program that offers free loaves of bread and fresh pastries to anyone who needs it – no questions asked. The bakery offers an assortment of treats, including gluten-free, allergen-friendly and vegan pastries; rainbow bagels; as well as Portuguese desserts like flan and custom cakes.
About half of the Hope Bread program is funded by customers, with the other half funded by the business. The staff members also add all their daily tips to the fund at the end of the day.
A dozen or so people a day come in asking for Hope Bread, she said. One Saturday in late August, the bakery received the most requests for it, with around 14 families coming in and walking out with pies they didn't have to pay for.
On an average Saturday, roughly 40 to 50 people come in, said Batista, and on a busy Saturday like that one recently, Batista estimates giving away around $400 to $500 worth of free food.
Many continue living without sufficient financial assistance from the government as a reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, and Batista said she's noticed a rise in the number of people needing help. After her own boyfriend, James Frey, was laid off from his tattooing job, he started working with Batista at the bakery.
Over the past few months, the bakery has given away thousands of dollars of food for free, including more than: ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.