Statistics show that over 80% of adults with disabilities are unemployed. Shirley Ruch, a speech and language pathologist, practicing for over 30 years with a private practice in Sag Harbor, specializes in working with children with autism. After graduating college or aging out of high school, many of her former students were facing this very issue. Their parents felt deeply concerned about what their kids would do all day.
Shirley is a practical problem solver, a characteristic she learned from her hardworking father, whom she says “could fix anything and any problem with a little ingenuity and a lot of sweat.” She wanted to create a place for adults with special needs to belong, learn, socialize, and find fulfillment and pride in meaningful work.
In 2016 Shirley put her determination into action, and along with a lot of support and encouragement from her husband, South Fork Bakery was born. Within five months of its launch, she had products in 22 stores on the East End. By 2018, they earned official non-profit status, enabling Shirley to expand, providing more sustainable work to other special needs employees who had been hoping and waiting for an opportunity with the bakery. Not long after, the bakery was employing 16 special needs adults and baking over 2000 goodies per week. Before the pandemic, they were supplying over 50 stores, farmer’s markets, and various festivals across Long Island with their delicious cookies, brownies, blondies, pies, and other sweet treats.
South Fork Bakery’s employees say the job provides them with a great sense of worth, pride, fun, and good friends. Despite their diverse range of diagnoses, including Autism, Down’s syndrome, ADHD, OCD, receptive, expressive, and social language disorders, employees are immersed in all aspects of the business, including weighing, mixing, measuring, baking, bagging, labeling, boxing, and selling. Retired job coaches and special education teachers assist with problem-solving employee obstacles focusing on ability, not disability. Multiple tasks offer a variety of ways to exercise fine motor and cognitive skills. Employees may need more time, visual supports, repeated demonstrations, or anything else to learn and complete their tasks successfully. They are also able to enhance their social skills through cooperation and communication. Shirley says that many of her employees would be isolated at home without work if it were not for their opportunity at the bakery. Working there offers them a predictable routine, challenges, fulfillment, and a sense of camaraderie.
The gift that keeps on giving.
Shirley is very proud of her employees, especially how they are excited to spend some of their hard-earned money at stores in their local community. Not only do they get a sense of self-worth and purpose at the bakery, but they independently give back to the community as well. We see clearly how Shirley’s mission brings the power of positivity full circle.
By satisfying your sweet tooth on the LIFC Marketplace, you are directly supporting South Fork Bakery and contributing to the success of other small food businesses across the Long Island region.
Long Island Food Council
The Long Island Food Council was created to bring people together and to create collaboration amongst food, beverage, and service professionals in the region. As advocates for the Long Island Food and Beverage industry, the LIFC is an information hub and a catalyst for networking and is committed to offering meaningful benefits and resources to grow and run a profitable business. If you are a maker of any kind in the food and beverage space and would like to learn more about how the LIFC can help you succeed, view LIFC membership options and reach out anytime for support.
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Jane Rudes is the CoFounder of TunedUp Media and brings a 20+year background in communication strategy and content development to the agency. She is often called upon both professionally and personally for her ability to analyze and optimize situations that require advanced interpersonal understanding, intuitive strategic planning, and precision of expression.
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