Non-profit bakery outside Clarkston boosts resettled refugees

The Just Bakery Atlanta staff, including founder and executive director Leah Lonsbury (far right). Photo courtesy Just Bakery Atlanta.

Clarkston, GA — Leah Lonsbury worked at several jobs over the years while dreaming of working at the crossroads of food and creating change.

“I have always loved to feed people and see connecting over food as an essential and sacred act between us as siblings in our larger human family,” she told The Tucker Observer. “It’s harder to misunderstand, judge and mistreat someone after you’ve shared a meal and the experience around it.”

Lonsbury found that crossroads in 2017 when she created Just Bakery. The non-profit operates out of a commercial kitchen on Memorial Drive outside Clarkston and provides paid job training and a living wage for resettled refugees.

She was inspired by a bakery in Madison, Wis., where she lived for seven years. The bakery helped formerly incarcerated people reestablish their lives. It was a short-term and free but unpaid program, so it was different from what Just Bakery ended up becoming.

“But this was the first time I was plugged into watching an organization use the marketplace in a creative way to make change,” Lonsbury said. “Customers and supporters got to be a part of that too.”

After moving to Atlanta, she led her church’s efforts to sponsor a family of refugees from Afghanistan. Lonsbury witnessed the family’s struggles as they tried to learn English and worked low-wage jobs.

“These were the kinds of options available to newly arrived refugees,” she said. “None of them established the kind of economic security that is necessary for any American — new or native born — to thrive.”

Lonsbury was able to start Just Bakery thanks to a $38,000 grant from Oakhurst Baptist Church. The workers are paid a starting wage of $15 an hour to work in the bakery, build new job skills and earn professional certifications.

Bhima, a refugee from Nepal, started as a trainee and quickly rose to head baker.

“That came with guaranteed hours and a raise, which allowed her to purchase a car to get to and from work independently,” Lonsbury said.

Soon after that, Bhima and her husband Nabin purchased their first home. All Bhima needed was an opportunity, Lonsbury said.

“We’re committed to living wage work and putting our resources and networks to work for our staff family,” she said. “That’s how they can establish economic security, which affects just about everything else in our lives, in the long-term work of resettlement.”

Just Bakery takes orders for pickup and delivery on their website and does pop-ups every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Queenie’s Consignment on Lavista Road and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Oakhurst Farmer’s Market on East Lake Drive.

To find their food, click here.

The most popular items include multigrain bread, cinnamon rolls and dark chocolate chip muffins with sea salt. Dark chocolate ganache tarts with a cherry kick and Bhima’s royal iced cookies are holiday favorites.

“Bhima’s also an artist, and that shows in her henna icing designs,” Lonsbury said.

Expansion is next on the Just Bakery menu. They need to increase sales and add staff in order to open up their first brick-and-mortar retail location.

“We have two possibilities for the near future for retail locations,” Lonsbury said. “We’re also working on building out a food truck which we hope to park in a regular spot to give us a temporary retail location of sorts in the meantime.”

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