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The Brownies Found in Your Favorite Ben and Jerry’s Flavors Help Fight Poverty

greyston bakery brownie
Image used with permission by copyright holder
It’s likely you’ve eaten some of Greyston Bakery’s decadent, fudgy brownies even if you didn’t know it. They supply the brownies for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, like Chocolate Fudge Brownie or Half Baked. They also supply life changing jobs and support.

Greyston Bakery wasn’t started to bake brownies. It was started to provide jobs. In 1982, Roshi Bernie Glassman, an aeronautical engineer and Buddhist monk, opened Greyston in Yonkers, New York to alleviate the community’s crippling poverty. To do this, Glassman championed something called Open Hiring, a simple but revolutionary idea: If you’re over 18 and want a job, Greyston will give you one. A person’s educational level, unemployment, prior drug use, or criminal record do not matter.

An estimated 65 million Americans have criminal records. Almost half of black men and 40 percent of white men are arrested by 23. If we pulled an England and put all arrested Americans into their own country, they’d be the 18th largest nation in the world, three times bigger than Australia. We have as many Americans with college degrees as we do with arrests.

Greyston Bakery Taurean Cookies
Image used with permission by copyright holder

But a round 90% of companies in the US, from Bank of America to Domino’s, perform criminal background checks as part of the hiring practice, a large increase from a pre-September 11th world. While it’s not wrong to want to keep a business and its employees safe, many companies have overly broad prohibitions against criminal records, meaning no matter how nonviolent or minor the infraction, if you’ve got a record, you’re not welcome to apply. It’s a probably well-intended policy, but it is deeply flawed. There is little evidence to suggest past criminal behavior predicts future behavior and providing a person with a living wage and opportunity significantly decreased crime.

Thanks to Greyston, a for profit company, their Open Hiring policy has helped over 2,000 people gain employment and they’ve put over $15 million dollars back into the Yonkers community. Their success stories show that most people just need a chance. And the remarkable 35,000 pounds of perfectly moist, fudgy brownies they bake every single day, for companies like Ben and Jerry’s, Delta Airlines, and Whole Foods, shows they’ve found amazing employees this way.

Greyston can’t employ everyone, but they still cater to the entire community, using their own profits to fund initiatives. They have the Workforce Development program, which provides people 18-24 with all the skills and training they need to perfectly fit the needs of Yonkers’ employers. This program also provides career counselling, job placement, and help with job retention. Students can even earn certifications required in careers like the culinary arts.

Greystone Bakery Sharon Shay Gena
Greystone Bakery Employees Sharon, Shay and Gena Image used with permission by copyright holder

Parents get a helping hand from the Early Learning Center. The average cost of daycare is $196 a week, adding up to over $10,000 a year for just one child. A babysitter averages even more at $214 a week, and studies show childcare costs will only increase. This can be a huge financial strain and makes it incredibly difficult for some parents to find and keep a job when they have very young children. Greyston helps by offering the Early Learning Center, a place where parents know their child will be well cared for and enriched. The center has hours designed for working parents, gets kids ready to enter school, offers after school homework help, and recreational programs. The Early Learning Center also offers a support group for parents where they can volunteer in the classroom, get advice on parenting, and even help relationships between fathers and children.

From its very conception, Greyston was at the forefront of helping the homeless. They created the Issan House, a 35-unit home for homeless people battling HIV/AIDS as well as addiction and mental illness. Issan House doesn’t just provide a roof and a bed: Greyston provides the 40 to 50 people who live there with counseling, skills training, advocacy, appointment escorts, help with benefits, and nutritious meals to help them get back on their feet.

Unsurprisingly, Greyston Bakery is a Certified B Corp and was New York state’s first ever Benefit Corporation. These for-profit corporations have high levels of transparency and require that the environment be considered alongside financial gain.

Greyston Bakery Chocolate Chunk Cookies with milk
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you run a company, consider beginning your own Open Hiring policy. According to the CEO Mike Brady in his TED Talk, you could reach out to them if you’ve got questions and they’ll help you get started. Or, if you’re not in a position to do that, just keep eating their delicious preservative-free brownies and blondies made with Fair Trade ingredients and cage-free eggs. (Or get the vegan option instead!) Tuck into that Ben and Jerry’s or grab a couple brownies at Whole Foods. If you want to be the ultimate gift-giver, check out their boxes. If brownies aren’t your thing (who are you?) but you’re inspired by the work Greyston does, you can always just donate directly.

It’s pretty clear why Greyston says “We don’t hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people.” With a humble brownie, Glassman and his bakery has changed the course of thousands of lives.

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