Va. bakery staffed by local homeless people paying it forward to help others in need

- A unique bakery in Virginia is attracting crowds and cooking up more than just sweet desserts. It is giving its workers a chance to be part of the community and contribute in a meaningful way.

The Holy Cannoli bakery is run out of the Canvas Church in Winchester and is entirely staffed by homeless people trying to make a difference.

It is open every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. as the church allows them to use their space to operate the bakery.

Charles, who has been homeless for 13 months, walks about an hour and 30 minutes to the church to open everything up for the morning.

“I do this because it makes me feel good to help people who are in need,” he said. “If they are walking and they don’t have any money for coffee or cookies, they can just come in, get their coffee and cookie and they don't have to do anything.”

Holy Cannoli does not charge money for its food, but asks people for donations to give back to the church.

“We treat everybody the same,” Charles said. “Doesn't matter if you are rich, poor, you don't have money, we treat everybody the same. We treat everybody with respect.”

Without a business license, the people who work here do not get paid. But that is not deterring them from coming.

“They are here on time, they are communicating, they are making sure we have the ingredients to make cookies,” said volunteer Kim Craig. “It is amazing. And besides what is going on in their personal lives, they are making this happen.”

But one priceless thing they are able to get from this experience is friendship.

“When I would feel down or I would feel hopeless, one of the workers here would tell me don't lose hope, you can make it and we kind of do that for each other,” said Sheila Clark, one of the bakers at Holy Cannoli. “We work as a support system for each other.”

“I started focusing on the homeless about 18 years ago and I'd always ask, ‘What is the hardest thing about being homeless?’” Craig said. “Sometimes you think food and obviously a place to live. But often, the answers were toilet paper to go to the bathroom, a place to go to the bathroom. And one time I asked the man, ‘What's the hardest part?’ He said no one has touched me since I was homeless and that was three years ago.

“You get to know them and these people are marvelous. They have gone through hardships like we all do but on a different level. I have learned something every time I hang out with them.”

Charles currently lives in a motel. Despite his situation, he told us he would rather help others more in need than himself.

“More people sleep on the streets and in the rain than I do,” he said.

The bakery is thinking about expanding its hours. For more information about Holy Cannoli, go to https://www.facebook.com/holycannolibakery/

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