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Spreading hope with Southridge Jam Company

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For its 12-year history, Southridge Shelter at Southridge Community Church (St. Catharines, Ont.) has helped people get themselves out of a jam; now the ministry is also getting people into jam.

In its first year, Southridge Jam Company stirred up 3,000 jars of jam and a sense of purpose for individuals transitioning from the shelter to greater independence.

“We’ve seen so many people who move out of the shelter do really well,” says Southridge Shelter program director Brendon Nicholson. “Our desire was to capitalize on that momentum and add that extra bit of support to help them transition back into the work force.”

A great pick

Southridge Jam Company began when Southridge church member Cam Block, a Red Seal chef, became the shelter food services director – with a vision for a social enterprise. His background was bread making, but the urgency of getting bread from oven to customer before it perishes led him to a cannier idea.

Through their Vineland congregation’s work with migrant workers, Southridge already had relationships with local farmers and access to some great fruit. “A lot of fruit is not beautiful enough to sit on grocery shelf, so it gets thrown away,” says Nicholson. But it’s perfect for jam – a product that stays fresh for years.

The first batches

Every one of the 800 residents who come through the shelter each year receives a coach who helps them access employment, housing or recovery supports to move forward. These coaches connected Nicholson’s team with potential jam makers: former shelter residents who were “doing well and could use an extra boost.”

Relationships with coaches often last long after individuals transition back into the community. Most former residents continue to visit Southridge Shelter regularly for daily $2 meals and weekly programs including games and movie nights, men’s and women’s coffee mornings, art groups and euchre tournaments.

Three months after leaving the shelter, they are welcome to return as volunteers. “So many are anxious to come and give back,” says Nicholson, “and joining the Jam Company is a way to scratch that itch.”

This year, they ran three jam-making cohorts with five participants in each. Each cohort worked with a different fruit to create Southridge Jam Company’s trio of products: strawberry jam, peach jam and grape jelly.

Photos by Drew Unruh, Made By Frame

Stirring up confidence

In addition to practical knowledge regarding food preparation and safety, jam makers gain valuable teamwork skills. “For those who’ve been out of the workforce for a while, it’s an adjustment working with the same people week after week,” says Nicholson, who leads “learning breaks” on skills like identifying strengths and weaknesses in oneself and one’s coworkers.

The best part is the team atmosphere. “Our tagline is ‘friendships make the difference,’” says Nicholson. “Once you get into the kitchen, it’s just a bunch of jam makers; you couldn’t identify the volunteers from the former shelter residents.”

The “cherry on the top” of the program was when a group of managers visited the Southridge Jam Company kitchen as a corporate teambuilding exercise. “Our participants guided these managers through the jam-making process; they were the leaders,” says Nicholson. “What a confidence boost that was – knowing this group was paying to learn from them.”

Spreading the love

On several Sundays, jam makers set up tables at all three Southridge church locations. “It was a joy to see the church so excited to buy jam,” says Nicholson, “and to see our participants – who’d been involved since that jam was fruit – selling it.”

Southridge Jam Company sells their jam through a local winery, one of Southridge’s fruit suppliers and online at southridgejam.com. They’re seeking more opportunities for alumni to sell jam in the community at craft shows and farmers’ markets to gain sales experience and be ambassadors for the program.

At graduation, each participant or volunteer receives a certificate, a list of skills for their resume and a monogrammed apron. Cohorts choose how the proceeds from their jam will be spent on Southridge Shelter programs.

“For some folks, the outcome after graduation will never be full-time employment,” says Nicholson. “The outcome for them is a sense of purpose: having something a couple days a week to get up for and contribute toward.”

[Angeline Schellenberg  


Watch a video about Southridge Jam Company.


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