Married couple Tracy and Josh Burgess began volunteering at the The Dorothy Day House (one of few homeless shelters in Memphis catering to families) in 2012. Around that same time, the couple took up baking and cake decorating as a hobby.
Little did they know back then, but that hobby would soon turn into a career opportunity for the homeless families they served. Josh and Tracy (who now serves as director of development for the Dorothy Day House) will open Lucy J’s Bakery in Crosstown Concourse in November, and they’ll employ residents from Dorothy Day.
The full-scale bakery will serve “croissants, danishes, muffins, pies, cakes, and breads,” Tracy says. Plus, they’ll take custom orders for birthday, wedding, or other special occasion cakes. Josh will run the bakery day-to-day, while Tracy continues her work at the Dorothy Day House.
Employees at Lucy J’s will earn a living wage of $15 an hour, as well as medical benefits through the Memphis Plan at Church Health.
“Employment can be a quick fix. I know that sounds simple, but to be able to provide employment with a living wage allows families who live here to save up their funds, take care of bills, and transition out of the Dorothy Day House,” Tracy says. “That was our whole goal, to create a space where employees could earn $15 an hour. When we considered all the line items, especially the build out expenses, of our bakery budget, the employee wages was the one constant that didn't change"
Lucy J’s is offering its customers a chance to give back as well. Proceeds from every cup of coffee sold on a "pay what you can scale" will be donated to the Dorothy Day House.
Since 2006, the Dorothy Day House has housed 51 families at its home at 1429 Poplar. They stay for an average of five to six months while they get back on their feet and find permanent housing.
“These are families who have suffered some sort of trauma, whether it’s a medical illness or a car wreck or a house fire,” Tracy says. “These are families who have lost their jobs altogether, or their hours have been cut back so they can’t make ends meet. Or it’s the effects of generational poverty.”
When a new family comes into the house, the Dorothy Day house manager works with them to develop goals and can connect them with resources for legal help, medical attention, tutoring for their children, or whatever need they may have. But Tracy says the lack of a living wage is one of the biggest barriers to families transitioning into permanent homes and successful lives.
“Employment with a wage that will sustain their family life is a huge factor,” Tracy says. “Some families will say, I’ve got a job interview! It’s minimum wage, but at least it’s a job. Yes, it is a job, but it our responsibility to help families work through their budget and realize that a minimum wage job doesn't really help in the long-term. That’s where Lucy J’s comes in.”