‘Bread elves’ spread kindness

Apple Spice employee and retired volunteer collect extra bakery loaves to feed people in need.
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Extra bread at Apple Spice often is given to neighbors and community members by volunteers. Courtesy Apple Spice Box Lunch Delivery & Catering

A pair of West Michigan women have stepped up to help their at-risk neighbors with bread donations.

Jenny Durfee, a delivery driver and kitchen worker at Apple Spice Box Lunch & Catering Co. in Byron Center, and Bonnie Wiers, a volunteer with Streams of Hope, decided they would help meet the food needs of those struggling financially during COVID-19 by committing to a seemingly small action that’s had a big impact — giving away surplus bread from Apple Spice’s kitchen to neighbors and community members.

Nancy Jacobs co-owns the Apple Spice franchise at 701 68th St. SW in Byron Center with her husband, Mike Jacobs. They opened the business — which is a boxed lunch delivery and catering company known for its fresh salads, sandwiches, soups and bread — in 2019 as a second career. Nancy Jacobs is a retired nurse, and her husband was an aerospace engineer. Married 32 years with about 10 years left before they want to retire for good, Jacobs said they prayed about the impact they could have with their Apple Spice franchise.

“We figured … let’s do something and do it right to try to not only have a wonderful business, but to bless our employees and to be a blessing to the community,” she said.

Jacobs said Apple Spice bakes honey wheat, sourdough and 13-grain bread without preservatives from scratch every day, with the process starting at 4 a.m. when the baker comes in and lasting for about four hours.

“We must estimate how much bread we will use each day and add a buffer,” Jacobs said. “This leaves us (with) extra bread at the end of the day.”

The bread is only sold same day at Apple Spice, but Jacobs said it can last for up to a week if people refrigerate it. Durfee, figuring perfectly good bread shouldn’t go to waste, decided to start an informal giveaway service in her neighborhood in Gaines Township.

“We just noticed that there was a lot of extra bread at the end of the day, and instead of throwing it in the trash every day, (I figured) why don’t we just help somebody out?” she said. “Whatever’s left at the end of the day, I bring it home and I set it out in my front yard on a folding table with ‘free’ signs, and people just come and get it.”

There is no charge for the bread, although there is a donation jar for those who are able to give. Any donations collected are then shared with her co-workers, whose work hours have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Durfee said her neighbors, many of whom are elderly, have come to appreciate the bread stand. She has received handwritten cards in the mail from people — including one from the township, thanking her for her service.

In addition to her bread stand, Durfee also makes deliveries with her daughter to Pinegate Mobile Village, a mobile home park just a few minutes away where her mother-in-law lives, along with several elderly and disabled individuals and military veterans.

“My daughter will go and knock on the doors and ask them if they would like anything, if they can’t get out of their house. She’ll knock on one door, and they’re like, ‘Oh yes, I’d love to have one,’ and ‘Why don’t you go knock on George’s door? Maybe he wants one; just open the door and ask him,’” Durfee said.

In the beginning, Durfee also was making stops at Streams of Hope in Cutlerville, a nonprofit ministry that runs a food pantry. But when COVID-19 hit, the organization didn’t want any outsiders coming in to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

So instead, Bonnie Wiers, a retired teacher and Streams of Hope volunteer for about three or four years, became the transporter, picking up bread from Apple Spice on Tuesdays and Thursdays — rain, snow or shine — and delivering it to the food pantry, which is open for curbside service from 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays and 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Thursdays.

Although Jacobs said Wiers plays an important role, Wiers said she doesn’t necessarily feel she is doing anything special. She believes volunteering not only is the right thing to do but also keeps her young and active.

“I’m just a transporter,” Wiers said. “I just take bread from one place to another. It’s a very small part that I play, but I’m glad I can. … The atmosphere here (at Apple Spice) is wonderful.”

Jacobs dubbed the two women Apple Spice’s “bread elves” for the service they do for the community.

“It’s people like Jenny and Bonnie that make West Michigan the best it can be,” she said.

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