For a professional bread maker, the holidays are a gift. Busy cooks who might never think about homemade bread suddenly must have it for their Thanksgiving tables. Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes has seen it happen. And when she first launched her business—with young children to raise and a “factory” that consisted of a gargantuan oven on her back porch—seeing those Parker House rolls fly off the shelf was important. She needed the money—and the validation from her customers. But now, many successful years later, things are different.
“This season is all about gratitude for me,” Barnes says. And she looks for ways to show it, from handwritten notes for friends to special dinner invitations. Early in her bread operation, she would take leftover pans of rolls to area shelters before they went bad.
“So many times we take for granted our daily bread,” Barnes says. She’s grateful that home cooks have reached for her pans of homemade rolls Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving through the years. But she’s mindful of the financially-challenged households across the South that can’t: “Some families truly can’t afford to put hardly any food on the table, much less small luxuries like hot, buttered, homemade rolls.”
That’s why as her business expanded, Barnes expanded her bread donations, too—sending truckloads of homemade bread to a central Alabama food bank that serves counties across the whole state. “It warms my heart to imagine the families who benefit from that service at a holiday meal. Sitting at my own Thanksgiving table, I think of them gathered around theirs, passing the bread basket,” she says.
And even as she’s helped feed thousands through the years with such donations, Barnes doesn’t neglect those smaller, personal gestures that show people closer to home how much she appreciates them: “I get aggravated with myself when I realize that it sometimes takes a holiday to make me slow down and say a genuine ‘thank you’ to those who make a difference in my world, to people who probably don’t even realize they’re doing anything special.”
One of those everyday heroes is Pete, the UPS driver who delivers to Barnes’ South Alabama home almost every day this time of year. The two banter back and forth when she’s home, and Pete’s kind enough to bring packages under the shelter of her garage when it’s pouring rain. “I have an extra freezer out there where I’ve stashed an assortment of my bread,” she says. “This time of year I leave a note taped to the door in case I miss his delivery: When you drop my packages off in the garage, open the freezer door and get some pans of rolls for your Thanksgiving dinner. My best to your family! I just love peeking out the window and seeing his smile!”
Whether she’s stocking Pete’s freezer or those of countless families via the food pantry, Barnes uses her bread as a way to show she cares. Giving it away is how she tries to “share warmth” with others.
This holiday season, think about how you can latch on to her idea.
It’s easy to see big nonprofits helping so many during the holidays and wonder if smaller contributions matter. But Sister says it’s the smallest of gestures that touch hearts the deepest. Maybe you welcome a new neighbor. Knit someone a scarf. Volunteer for your favorite local cause: “You don’t have to do a lot—you just have to do what you can.”
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