More than just food for thought: Crossroads where deeper connection, serving and service meet
Even before guests were welcomed by their hosts at the launch of the Crossroads Bread Project at the Reformed Church in Daspoort Pretoria a few days ago, they were greeted by the smell of fresh warm bread. It was an aroma that made mouths water and spirits lift.
The vision of the Crossroads Bread Project is to become an achievable, sustainable and lasting resource through the building of woodfired ovens at strategic points within communities afflicted by suffering and hunger. With this aim in mind, the initiative identified churches, which often form the heart of their communities and usually have the necessary infrastructure, as the ideal starting point to accommodate and promote the installation of these ovens.
Part and parcel of the good news is the prospect of convenience: flour blends that have been specially developed for the project and can be purchased in ready-to-bake form. Once the bread is baked, churches can either provide their congregations with freshly baked 300g loaves at a fraction of the retail price or they can sell the bread at a profit which can be ploughed back into other community outreach plans.
THE MAN WITH THE PLAN
Master sourdough baker Johan Stapelberg has been involved in the baking sector for 45 years. His objective with the Crossroads Project is twofold: to find a solution for the large-scale poverty and hunger in the country and to make churches relevant again. “Churches are empty, church halls have become monuments,” he explains. “People who don’t have money for electricity, data or airtime can learn to bake through us, hold gatherings in the halls and, if they need it, use the church’s WiFi”.
While the stimulus behind Johan’s solutions lies in pressing current challenges, his inspiration arises from a Mediaeval custom. In 14th and 15th century Europe civil leaders had central ovens erected on market squares because people’s houses were too small. Every housewife would mix her daily dough and take it to the town oven to be baked. “It was a merging of many things, of which the social gathering was not the least,” Johan says.
It is precisely this deeper social connection that he and his team hope to recreate with their project.
THE A TEAM BEHIND THE BREAD PROJECT
The minister: Where ministry and mercy meet
Reverend Stephen de Beer of the Reformed Church in Daspoort was the first of many enthusiasts throwing their weight behind Johan’s masterplan, because his congregation, like many others, is under pressure. “One doesn’t have to go out and look for challenges; it’s right here on our doorstep,” he says, which is why the church already has a soup kitchen. Inspired by his involvement with the project, Stephen took his commitment to the next level; he visited all the soup kitchens in the immediate vicinity and is in the process of integrating all of them on his church’s premises. The benefit is that the Daspoort Reformed Church already has the infrastructure, including a cold-storage chamber and freezers.
Another benefit is the social services organisation that is currently working from the church premises while their own offices are being refurbished. This means Stephen can rely not only on their insights and knowledge of people in material distress, but also a team of social workers that are always on standby to assist by word and deed.
The builder: From prototype to proud achievement
The impressive woodfired oven at the heart of the launch function is the fourth version since the original design. “The first prototype was an ugly duckling; a kind of long, thin tunnel,” explains Gustav Appelgryn of Concilio Construction who tackled the design and development challenge with the expert assistance of Christo Jansen of Artisan Feast Bread. Today’s oven is, if one sticks to the metaphor, a particularly graceful swan.
Given the upliftment agenda of the project, the final product, known as a Broven, is not the only encouraging news. The price is equally uplifting. “The prices of ovens for pizza places range from R40 000 to R60 000,” says Gustav. “Our oven is considerably more affordable. It can also be subsidised if necessary, which means churches and NGO’s will ultimately pay a minimal amount”.
The gospel connection: Spreading the Word and the news
Another crucial link in the Crossroads chain is Christo van der Schyff, a social entrepreneur and head of the Wordspread Foundation, a body with a mandate that includes the growth of churches. Christo has taken on the task of raising awareness of the project amongst evangelical as well as all charismatic churches with a passion. The result is unprecedented enthusiasm and enquiries from thousands of churches.
Adding to the momentum is the spiritual support by André Ungerer, the chairman of the General Church Assembly of the Netherdutch Reformed Church of Africa (NRCA).
The teachers: The true spirit behind skills training
Driving the skills side of the project are Garth Walker and Willie Reed of Edutex, an educational organisation with a special interest in the food and beverage side of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). They have compiled a one-year training course for aspiring bakers, with the government subsidising salaries. The course covers the full spectrum of baking products, from bread and scones to cake, as well as aspects such as food security and hygiene. After the completion of the course, students will receive a diploma and can either work at any bakery or start their own.
MAKING BUSINESS OF BREAD
Johan and his team’s ambitions are not limited to bread alone. Given the ovens’ capacity to deliver 80 units per hour, there is a much bigger business opportunity. Although bread does date back to ancient times, modern markets are becoming increasingly digitalised and virtual. “We want to give our joint enterprise access to a digital market where they can sell the project’s boutique bread, request and facilitate donations and also sell other items made by their communities,” Johan explains.
It is a win-win model – also for other businesses. “Companies can make donations – from ovens and salaries to, for example, flour from millers. And everything that is donated can be claimed back from tax,” he says.
This is where the My Product online marketplace, developed by My Product System, fits into the picture. Driven by the visionary focus of the Crossroads Bread Project, the My Product online market was identified as a preferred partner, supplying an integrated marketing solution in collaboration with Johan and his team. In this capacity My Product will not only offer churches the opportunity to sell their bread, flour mixes and a variety of other products and services online. It will also serve as a central point from which the project will be monitored, an aspect that is crucially important from a sustainability point of view.
Ultimately, says Johan, everything – the vision, the passion, the love of the cause and the logistics – come together in an oven that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. “Our bona fides are right. The hungry are fed, people can enjoy the privilege of togetherness and belonging, and the community of the faithful. Churches will be able to generate profit and do online sales and congregations will benefit. Nobody loses.
“By breaking bread together, we will be building bridges,” he concludes.
For more information, call Johan directly at 084 840 3139 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org