SOUTH JORDAN — Last year, in the first week of the COVID-19 shutdown and in the wake of an earthquake in the Salt Lake Valley, local baker Steve Borg decided he wanted to help give back to a struggling community.
So, he created the Free Bread Project. Anyone who came into Schmidt's Pastry Cottage would get two free loaves of bread — one for themselves and one to give to a neighbor. The idea was to encourage patrons to check on their neighbors who might be homebound during the pandemic.
"It was to help people who are homebound and, you know, couldn't get out and have their neighbors check on," he explained.
Borg wasn't sure how long the project was going to last, but 365 days later it's still going strong. The bakery has since given away more than 120,000 free loaves.
"We just kept doing it. And as we kept on, we know that probably more and more people didn't need the bread, but I felt like we were still in a pandemic," Borg said. "My customers kept me in business for 45 years and I felt, as long as I can do it, I was gonna give back to them and just do it as long as I can until this is all over with."
At 68 years old, Borg said there isn't a lot of hands-on service projects he could do, especially during a pandemic. Giving away the free loaves was his way to serve his community, he said. He hopes others are inspired to find creative ways to give back in their communities.
"If everybody helps out and gives back, it helps us through this long, long year," he said.
It was a tough year for business at the bakery shop, considering events like office parties or weddings that typically bring in customers weren't happening. The bakery was able to stay open and relied on its loyal customers throughout the pandemic to stay afloat, Borg said.
If even just a handful of families were helped during this time, Borg said the entire free bread project would have been worth it.
Going forward, Borg said he hopes to keep up the program as long as it's needed and as long as he can afford to.
"We felt like this was giving a little bit of happiness, a little bit good in life," he said.
Correction: A previous version said Schmidt's Pastry Cottage is located in West Jordan. The bakery actually has two locations: one in South Jordan and one in Taylorsville.