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Dec 17, 2020

Employing Human Trafficking Survivors Next Step for Social Enterprise Fourteen Twenty Nine

Growing up, Amanda Caldwell had no idea that her love and talent for baking would lead to immense impact in her community. 

In 2018, Caldwell founded Fourteen Twenty Nine, a bakery with a social mission, in the kitchen of her home. But her support and deep desire to help started years prior, when she learned of the rise of human trafficking both locally and around the world.   

“I knew that I wanted to help people, and specifically human trafficking survivors, since I was in high school,” Caldwell says. “I did a lot of volunteer work in different communities in Columbus and around the country, and I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just an issue globally; it was very close to home.”

Throughout college, Caldwell continued to be involved with support organizations abroad. She found, however, that few programs were based here in Columbus where the human trafficking issue was rising rapidly. Upon researching the gap of resources in the area, Caldwell found the SOAP Project, an organization that aids and assists human trafficking victims by placing the National Human Trafficking Hotline on the back of soap bars and distributes them to hotels. 

“Theresa Flores, who founded the SOAP Project, was my first connection along the way, so I volunteered with them to put some soaps together, and that’s when I learned about other organizations,” Caldwell says. “That was really the next step on my way to understanding this ecosystem of businesses that were helping survivors.” 

Of these many businesses is Eleventh Candle Co., a social enterprise that operates an employment model of hiring human trafficking survivors. Caldwell became an ambassador for Eleventh Candle and worked one-on-one with the employees.

Caldwell also began working with Reaching for the Shining Starz, an organization in Columbus founded by survivors that focuses on the immediate needs of women living on the street affected by trafficking and addiction. Through this program, Caldwell helped women find solace through baking; a hobby that she soon realized can be used for a greater good. 

“We started the idea of forming a bakery,” Caldwell says. “We would serve survivors as employees, and we could eventually hire people with barriers to employment.

“That is why we chose to work with human trafficking and specifically women. I wanted to find what my talent was; baking was high on that list. I thought, well I don’t see this happening; there’s candles, there’s other food businesses, but I don’t see a bakery. We could step into that role and that’s when I decided to go full-time, and decided to open a bakery.” 

Thus was born Fourteen Twenty Nine. From the kitchen of Caldwell’s home, she operated her new social impact business entirely on her own. The founder first sold brownies through Instagram, then expanded her product line at local farmers markets where she slowly gained more traction. The company, however, was still just a one woman show, and Caldwell knew she needed to give back on a larger scale. 

“I can only do what I can with what I have. I can’t employ people right now, but I can make a difference,” Caldwell says, leading to her decision to allocate a portion of the profits from bakery sales to the donation of essential products and meals to survivors in the area. 

Despite giving back what she could to the community, Caldwell wanted to expand her business and eventually reach her goal of employing survivors. But with the rise of a pandemic, she felt like she was back to square one. 

“COVID affected my business,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘What are we going to do??’”

Caldwell recalls that running a business on her own during a stay at home order was starting to become increasingly difficult, but she wasn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. 

“I decided to redesign our website and relaunched with a new site and new plan to deliver all over Columbus for free,” Caldwell says. “That’s when things really blew up; we started selling treat boxes for $20 and delivered them all over town and started doing that every single week.”

It wasn’t until a shoutout from an influencer that business really took off. In April, YouTube star Sierra Shultzzie featured the social enterprise bakery in a video that has since garnered over 400,000 views. The video, which shows a haul of products from different small businesses, helped Caldwell gain traction and customers practically overnight. 

“That’s when we started shipping and opened up a huge missing part of our business,” Caldwell explains.

Expanding to reach customers beyond Columbus was a milestone for Fourteen Twenty Nine. But there was still work left to do for the owner, who still ultimately wanted to employ trafficking survivors. In July, Caldwell participated in SEA Change, a social enterprise accelerator program, with the hope of reaching that goal.

Photo provided by Fourteen Twenty Nine

Through the accelerator, where Fourteen Twenty Nine became a finalist, Caldwell was able to gain the momentum and connections needed to expand her business and implement and employment-based model for her social  enterprise. 

“We continued to build a customer base and help us fulfill our mission,” Caldwell says. “I had multiple conversations with people in other food businesses and people who work with survivors, to build a program that can be successful. It has opened up a world of opportunities.”

Since her participation in the accelerator, Caldwell has relocated her home base to a commercial kitchen in Gahanna, where she partners with other local businesses like Pitabilities and Growlers Dog Bones, also a social enterprise. Caldwell also has plans to employ human trafficking survivors soon.

“It’s the first step along the way of someone being able to walk away from that life for themselves,” she explains. “We all deserve a living wage, no matter what someone has done. If they are willing to learn new skills, I don’t see why we can’t provide that for them.” 

From starting in her own kitchen, and making it through a pandemic only to blossom on the other side, Caldwell has continued to stay true to her mission. 

“I feel so strongly about employing these women who need a second, third, fourth, or fifth chance. I felt led towards these women,” she says. “There is nothing else I want to do, there is nothing that gives me more fulfillment.” 

Place a bakery order today by visiting fourteentwentynine.org, and learn more about this social enterprise and other businesses supporting human trafficking survivors on the SocialVentures Marketplace at socialventurescbus.com/marketplace.  

Read the original article on The Metropreneur site here.