Around the time of the recession in 2008, Paula Kaufman found herself in a situation she refers to as the “perfect storm.”
She and her husband were in the business of buying homes, and when the housing crisis hit, she had to take a job at the mall to make ends meet.
It was through that job she became exposed to other women with limited educations and no consistent partners in their lives to help them through their situations.
Inspired by her faith and a deeper calling, she turned these encounters and her own financial struggles into something positive, and the nonprofit Out of a Jam
“The original concept was to work with women who are struggling, as long as they are in a position to propel themselves forward,” Kaufman says.
Out of a Jam students prepare jam at the Community Harvest Food Bank’s north facility at 1010 N. Coliseum Blvd.
With this idea in mind, she reached out to the administration at The Crossing's
Fort Wayne campus, a faith-based organization that provides students with academic and job training, and she asked them for the names of mothers who might be interested in her program.
The Crossing's response was: “Take our kids (instead).”
It was then that Kaufman knew she needed to change course.
Fast forward to today, and she works with an average of 12 at-risk teens every eight weeks, training them in the basic skills used in commercial kitchens and assisting them in their recovery through life skills workshops.
She says the cost is about $550 per student, and donations from the community help make her work possible. Classes and food production take place at the Community Harvest Food Bank’s north facility at 1010 N. Coliseum Blvd.
As part of Out of a Jam, students learn the ins and outs of running a food operation—everything from safe food handling to distribution. The products they create are then sold through various distribution channels, including local shops like Fortezza Coffee, to offset the program's cost.
“It gives them a taste of what it’s like to run a (food) business,” she says.
Kaufman teaches students the ins and outs of running a food operation—everything from safe food handling to distribution.
While making jam was the organization's initial focus, they have since branched out into sandwiches, what they call “jammiches,” Kaufman says.
Speaking of expanding, she is proud to share the next chapter in the nonprofit’s journey.
In 2017, Out of a Jam was awarded funding from Ambassador Enterprise’s Strategic Empowerment and Enterprise Development (SEED) Challenge
for its collaboration with The Crossing to outfit a trailer and launch a food truck.
According to Kaufman, the food truck will make its “maiden voyage” on June 15 at Mad Anthonys Children’s Hope House in Fort Wayne.
But the food operation is just one means to a greater end of changing lives, Kaufman says, and while physical advancements take time, life changes take longer.
“We jokingly say we’re farmers, and all we’re doing is planting seeds,” she says. “If I only change one life, I’ve done enough."