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Scholarships and sweets: Morganton churches come together to support Latina youth

What do Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians have in common? In Morganton, they have a bakery and a unified mission to send young Latinas to college with scholarships and life skills.

Sweet & Savory Delights Bakery is an inter-faith culinary program that started seven years ago at Burke County United Christian Ministries. Each year produced its own challenges, including changes in location, leadership, and funds, but the bakery has finally found a home in the kitchen at First United Presbyterian with volunteers from various denominations.

The program takes place in the summer and works with high school girls, beginning with rising freshman. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they bake, decorate, and package. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, they sell at a local farmers markets. They bake seven weeks out of the summer, and take one week off for First United Presbyterian’s vacation bible school. During that week, the volunteers arrange a field trip taking the girls to college campuses around the state.

This past year they partnered with Open Hearts Bakery, a mission out of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church that works to help the employment-challenged through baking. With the help of Open Hearts Bakery, Savory Delights products can be found in Hickory.

Baking in the kitchen. Courtesy of Sweet & Savory Delights Bakery

In the 2019 baking season, there were 14 girls working with more than 25 volunteers from the community. On Thursdays, during lunchtime, the church volunteers arrange for small business owners, college counselors, and other community leaders to come talk about their various areas of expertise.

Volunteer Anne Bourg knows the most important thing the girls are learning has nothing to do with baking. Although she developed all the recipes and is very hands-on in the kitchen, she wants to make sure the girls know the goal isn’t to make them professional bakers — it’s about learning life skills along the way.

“We have to teach them how to raise their voices and be heard because they’re very modest, you know, humble girls,” she said.

The transformation by the end of a summer is easy to see. Bourg continued: “It’s amazing. At the end of the season, we just get so excited because we’ve seen such changes in so many.”

One of the major ways these life skills are taught doesn’t happen in the kitchen — it happens at the market. The girls are the ones doing the selling, and Bourg says once they realize people want to know their story and the story of the bakery, they light up.

They learn to take great pride in the things they’ve made and people seek out their specialty items, one of which gets made right in front of the customer’s eyes. The girls make cakes, cupcakes, muffins, granola, and cookies in the kitchen, but at the farmers market, they make fresh tortillas.

Tortillas at the Morganton farmer’s market. Courtesy of Sweet & Savory Delights Bakery

“The Hispanic community that we see is beautiful. They are supportive. They are positive, they are happy, they are polite. I’ve never seen kids this age who are all so receptive to everything that you bring to them. And, I mean, they’re just wonderful, wonderful people to work with,” said church volunteer Ruth Jones.

As of last year, the bakery had earned $14,125 to distribute as scholarships. Around a third of that money has already been awarded to student bakers who are now in college. These girls graduated high school and are now enrolled at Lenoir-Rhyne University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Appalachian State University.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.