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Rolling out pie crusts, measuring out perfect sized cookie dough balls, and packaging the final product are only a few of the jobs that the South Fork Bakery has to offer for adults with disabilities.
Shirley Ruch founded the South Fork Bakery in the Spring of 2016 out of the need to build meaningful employment opportunities for adults with disabilities.
“We make lots of goodies,” said Ruch. “Why we make it because we provide training and employment for special needs adults. It’s the gift that gives back because you’re giving meaningful paid employment to people who are very disenfranchised in our society.”
Ruch is a speech and language pathologist practicing for over 30 years with a private practice in Sag Harbor and specializes in working with children with autism.
The idea of the bakery came to light when many of her former students after graduating from college or aging out of high school were facing issues finding employment opportunities.
“I decided to go with the bakery because I always used cooking and baking in my therapy practice,” said Ruch. “It’s great for socialization and following directions in many things.”
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Many of her previous clients have had to depend on the bakery to find work when other employers would not hire them.
“Even though we all have different disabilities or we have different troubles or challenges,” said Sasha Gracia, employee. “We learn a lot, we learn about baking, we learn about cooking, and we learn how to cooperate together in one workplace.”
Whenever a new employee comes in, Ruch has them shadow and participate in each of the positions the bakery has to offer to see which would fit best to their skillset. Employees are immersed in all aspects of the business including mixing, baking, packaging, and selling.
“It’s a great job and organization for adults with special needs,” said Francis Demarteleire, an employee. “Shirley and the rest of the crew do an amazing job every day working on the cookies.”
One of their most popular items are the chocolate chip cookies, but the bakery has all kinds of sweets to offer. In addition to their cookies, they also make blondies, power bars, and pies ranging from different flavors depending on the season.
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Ruch hopes that with this bakery more adults with disabilities will find their purpose and will show people that hiring a person with a disability will make for a great employee no matter what the task.
“They often look at that first appearance and they shut down and don’t see the rest of the person,” said Ruch. ” I think if you give them an opportunity with support, with good communication that you can find things that they can be very productive in your business. We really welcome all people.”