When Porchlight Products launched in 2007, the goal was to give people struggling with barriers to employment, such as homelessness, mental illness, and physical disabilities, a hand-up rather than a handout. Porchlight Products employees transform Wisconsin-grown produce into delectable, artisanal treats ranging from sauerkraut to jam to baking mixes, all while gaining valuable work experience and training in employability skills. Porchlight Products is featured in a number of local stores, and some staff are tasked with marketing activities, including handing out samples.
Porchlight Products has grown since its humble beginnings. The number of trainees has increased from 6 to 15, and the product line has expanded from 4 to 12 different products. Not surprisingly, they have outgrown their kitchen. Luckily, Porchlight received generous support from many donors during their four-million-dollar capital campaign, and will be breaking ground in June on a new housing facility that will include a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 2,500-square-foot kitchen to house Porchlight Products.
Al, who has a physical disability and has worked part-time in the kitchen for the past four years, said that he can’t wait for the kitchen to be “bigger” so that he won’t have to shuffle around the big machines to get his work done.
LeeAnne, the manager of the kitchen program, will be happy to have everything located on the first floor. Currently it can take anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes just to bring up produce from the cold storage on the bottom level. When so much of the cooking is based on stirring at precisely the correct time, it makes it very difficult to have one employee be able to follow through with a process from start to finish. “As a manager, it’s also going to help to have designated work areas. I work with a wide variety of employees, and sometimes people just need space to do their projects. At this new location, it will be great for the employees to get that,” she explains.
Doretha is excited for the new kitchen because it is closer to her home, so she will be able to work more. She travels with her walker by bus to the kitchen now and frequently has issues with maneuvering it throughout the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and the large amount of students.
LeeAnne also envisions that the new kitchen will support her dream to expand the product baskets Porchlight Products offers. She cites plans for new themed baskets for the winter holidays, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day.
Another of her ideas is to create housewarming baskets that lenders and realtors could give to new homebuyers. “When I purchased my home, I enjoyed getting a ‘welcome home’ gift from my bank. A basket of delicious locally grown products is something unique, and the high quality of the products makes it honorable as a gift.”
If all goes as planned, Porchlight Products’ new kitchen will open sometime in spring of 2017. Meanwhile LeeAnne, Al, and the other Porchlight Products employees are gearing up for their busiest time of year, summer, when fresh local produce is in abundance.
To learn more about Porchlight Products and the many people who benefit from the job training program, visit porchlightproducts.org. You can also find a list of the yummy treats they make and where to find them for sale.