Toronto woman bakes more than 800 loaves of bread during COVID-19 to help people in need
Erin Socall wanted to have a purpose during the pandemic — 'it quickly escalated,' she says
When Erin Socall lost her job as a chef due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she let herself wallow in self-pity for one night — and then she started baking bread.
A lot of it.
Socall, 46, was a chef at a private company, but got laid off on March 13 as the city shut down in the face of the novel coronavirus. The next day, she says, she decided she needed to help others.
"When I woke up that day, I just knew that I had to do something," she said. "It's not even like it was a choice."
Over the past three months, she says she's baked more than 800 loaves at home — sometimes close to 40 a day — donating them to people in need across the GTA.
"It just seems so crazy to bake that much bread," said Socall, laughing. "I was baking every single day for two months."
As someone who once lived on welfare while raising her kids as a single mom, Socall felt compelled to help feed her community and give her life purpose during the lockdown. She had never worked as a baker, but bread was an easy thing she could make in her "ridiculously" tiny apartment kitchen.
She started off with Facebook posts asking if anyone needed bread — and got flooded with responses. So she started waking up at 6 a.m., making 12 to 18 loaves, then driving around the city dropping them off.
'You can actually see the joy in their eyes'
When Socall figured out how to bake more loaves at a time, "it quickly escalated."
Socall teamed up with community food-sharing organizations and set up a Go Fund Me to help with ingredients and gas money. She once woke up at 3 a.m. and baked for nine hours.
As donations petered out in May, she started slowing down and selling her loaves at Cider House, a restaurant on Roncesvalles Avenue, to cover costs, donating one loaf for every loaf sold.
Socall has delivered to single moms, refugees, folks with mobility issues, and food-sharing organizations, she says. She keeps loaves in her car to give to people who are homeless.
"When I bring bread to people ... you can actually see the joy in their eyes," she said.
"You know that you're doing something that's helping ...that's filling a belly," she said. "That's all I want."
She carves a heart on top of every loaf, so "everybody can have a little bit of love in their lives."
Looking for a commercial kitchen
Socall has slowed down the bread-baking over the past month, now only baking three days a week and selling on Fridays. But she wants to expand her "Loaves of Love" initiative into a non-profit, so she can mentor staff and help more people.
As a single mom, "All I ever wanted to do was feed my kids," she said during an earlier interview in April.
"If that's something that I can provide for other people, that just makes my world go 'round."
She had started making bread to give her life purpose during the lockdown to avoid falling into "that pit of despair," she said.
"I never in a million years ever thought I would be a baker," said Socall, who has a small personal catering company, which she uses to advertise her bread.
At one point she was able to use a commercial kitchen for a week, which dramatically ramped up production, and she says she's on the hunt for another one.
But for now, she'll keep churning out her "loaves of love" at home.