LOS ANGELES — About a month ago, social worker Diana Diaz was in her car on her way to drop off another bag of groceries with her next client, when messages started to trickle in from her last stop – first a photo, then a text, then a chain of texts.
The man texting her was a Venezuelan immigrant seeking asylum for himself, his wife, and their four children. His ability to work was hampered by the pandemic, and his entire family tested positive for COVID-19. He wasn’t just unable to provide for his family; he couldn’t even be in the same room with them.
Depressed, he opened the bag of groceries that Diaz left outside his door.
Diaz likes to include something special with each delivery. In the man's bag was a homemade loaf of sourdough bread, from the movement of Los Angeles bakers known as Cast Your Bread.
The client sat down at his table with a cup of coffee, bit into the bread, paused for a moment, then started to cry.
He told Diaz that memories flooded in of childhood trips to his abuela’s ranch, where she fed her family with homemade bread. Those were the days he felt most loved. It reminded him that even if he couldn’t provide much money for his family right now, he could provide love.
“The fact that these bakers take time out of their day to bake something for someone they don’t know, it amazes me, and gives me back some faith in humanity,” Diaz said. “You see people doing this, and something as small as bread can make such a big change.”
The idea behind Cast Your Bread is simple: Bakers of all levels band together to bake dozens of bread loaves and drop them off, en masse, with a charity for distribution.
In little more than three months, Cast Your Bread chapters have expanded across the Southland and are starting popping up across the baking world.
When the pandemic hit, Los Angeles-based baker Guy Frenkel realized that if he could find charities supporting hungry people, he could provide those charities with bread.
Frenkel is renowned for his sourdoughs.
In 2017, he was invited to bake at the Puratos Sourdough Library in Belgium.
A recently-featured loaf on his Instagram page (@CeorBread with more than 52,000 followers) blended purple maize and butterfly pea blossoms into his dough to create astonishing purple and violet waves in his bread.
Other loaves show similar artistry: delicate flour stencils, intricately arranged seed patterns, carefully scored spirals, or marbled dough inside an otherwise unassuming loaf of bread.
Each represents his philosophy that bread can be more than “the canvas upon which other creations or stories are being told” — that it can be meaningful unto itself.
In April, Frenkel reached out to some friends who connected him to local charities, and he made the call to his network of Instagram and Facebook baking friends. He promised, through a partnership with Colorado-based Ardent Mills, that he would help bakers restock their flour.
At first, it was only him, donating 50 loaves for a charity benefitting undocumented restaurant workers.
A week later, two other bakers joined, then a dozen more after that, and it snowballed from there. Chapters have sprung up in Baltimore, Chile, and South L.A., with Frenkel’s enthusiastic support — if someone wants to bake under the Cast Your Bread banner, he’s happy to help.
They’ve been able to give hundreds of loaves to organizations like Human Rights First, Lunch On Me, and Nourish L.A., which distribute food to people in need.
“Literally, Guy and his crew showed up with a truckload of hot bread — it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” said Natalie Flores, founder of Westside-based Nourish L.A. “Hot fresh bread, artistically created and not just delicious, but absolutely beautiful.”
According to an Instagram post, Cast Your Bread dropped off about 400 loaves of bread on that day, May 11.
About a month later, Cast Your Bread South, led by Nicole Bella and Kate McLaughlin, made its first call out for L.A. bakers. Their goal was to cover all of Los Angeles between the 10 Freeway and Long Beach.
Before joining forces, Bella and McLaughlin were already acquainted through the Instagram baking community.
McLaughlin (under the handle @SanPedroSourdough) had caught on to Bella's work filling grocery kits (baking as @floursessions) for Alma Backyard Farms, in Compton. The two connected and agreed to organize Cast Your Bread South.
Their initial drop of 40 loaves began with Human Rights First, in early July. The two drops since, each with just under 20 bakers and total contributions between 160 and 180 loaves, have benefitted Alma.
McLaughlin doesn’t like to think of the baking they’ve done as charity but as a community project.
“It’s not about us giving poor people some food as much as they’re giving us a chance to connect, to get better, and to help do what we’re all on this earth to do, which is support each other and love each other,” McLaughlin said.
The two admit that getting started on a baking journey can be daunting, but Bella’s goal has been to show people that anyone can bake, though it takes practice. McLaughlin likens it to surfing: You’re not wrestling with and mastering dough, but learning to work with it.
“I think the amount of work and the amount of love that goes into a loaf is tasted and seen,” Bella said. “When people sign up to make these loaves for people, they’re basically committing two to three days of their time to make it. They’re genuinely caring about someone, and I think people can taste that.”
Erika Cuellar, of Alma Backyard Farms, believes that through the bread, and the personalized messages left by bakers on their packages, clients can feel that connection.
“There’s someone who lists the ingredients, and always lists ‘love’ as one of the ingredients. It can sound kind of cheesy, but I think it resonates with us as an organization," Cuellar said. "What we do, we do because of love. It’s a reminder that, even though their paths may not cross, this bread is a connecting factor that reminds people that there’s hope in humanity.”