During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Women’s Bean Project created a safe work environment which allowed for chronically-unemployed women to have paying jobs in an environment that adhered to all the necessary health protocols.

Harrisa both started and graduated from Women’s Bean Project during the pandemic. The transitional job program lasts 8 months.

“Working here at Women’s Bean Project during COVID, I had some struggles and I didn’t think I was going to make it to graduation day because times were getting hard… COVID changed the world around,” Harrisa said. “But I did it and it was amazing. My family is so proud of me.”

Danielle also worked and graduated from Women’s Bean Project during a span of 8 months, starting in 2020.

“I’m different today than I was last year because I’ve trusted myself within Women’s Bean Project to go after what i want in my life,” Danielle said.

Danielle and Harrisa and another graduate of the program, Misty shared their stories with me in advance of Women’s Bean Project’s annual Ready, Set, Grow fundraiser in April 2021. All of the funds raised at the event goes right back into hiring more women over the next 12 months.

“When I walked into the Bean to apply, I had no self esteem and I didn’t even know if I’d fit in here,” Misty said. “I had no sense of direction or any goals for myself. But while working at the Bean, I’ve found my leadership my self confidence and my self worth.”

Misty, Harrisa and Danielle and the their colleagues have all faced extreme challenges in their pasts. Unhealthy relationships, addiction, depression, incarceration and homelessness are what many of these women have faced for years, and in many cases, for most of their lives. Up until they step inside the Women’s Bean Project on Curtis Street, these women didn’t have anyone looking out for them, counting on them or believing in them.

Even since it opened its doors in 1989, the Women’s Bean Project has been bustling. Women work on the dry food production line at the facility which is an historic, converted Denver firehouse The women are also responsible for taking in, assembling and shipping online orders. And that was a big part of the job for those women who worked during the pandemic. With people working from home and wanting comfort food, sales were very strong. And then, unbeknownst to anyone at Women’s Bean Project, the organization was written up in the  New York Times “2020 Well Holiday Gift Guide” on the day before Thanksgiving:

The Women’s Bean Project offers bean and lentil soup mixes, snacks and even dog treats, all made by women who had been chronically unemployed. By working for the Bean Project they are breaking the cycle of poverty. “Their food gifts nourish the body and soul. This nonprofit organization is in my hometown, Denver, and my family has volunteered with them for years: both their mission and location are close to my heart.” Cost: $5 to $25 — Lisa Damour, Adolescence columnist, New York Times.

That international plug for Women’s Bean Project led to it selling out of every product during the 2020 gift-giving season, even the dog treats were sold out. The holidays are always a robust time of year for sales but the demand continued into January and February when sales typically even out after the Christmas rush.

The women who make up the production line faced the demand for product with gusto… and these are women, who months before were hesitant about working as a team with other women. Away from the production floor, the women also took job readiness classes to sharpen their skills and received support services to overcome barriers to employment. Misty, Danielle and Harrisa all received entry-level positions at Denver metro area companies after graduating from Women’s Bean Project.

“I allowed myself to be vulnerable at Women’s Bean Project and I  allowed other people to help me and that’s a huge thing that i lacked before,” Danielle said. Here is short glimpse into Danielle’s interview with Kyle Dyer Storytelling:

“I have resources now, people to reach out to and people who love me,” Misty said. “And it feels great to just love myself… to know that I’m not co-dependent on anybody, that I can do it.” To hear more of Misty’s story:

“All I needed was a place where I could feel home and at Women’s Bean Project, they don’t judge you, they give you a place to stand.. and they let you go,” Harrisa said. “And it’s up to you to make something out of it for yourself.”

The slogan at Women’s Bean Project is “Real Work, Real Food, Real Promise”… and to that I say, “YES, YES, YES!” The food is excellent but the success stories and character of the employees and graduates are just as superb, stunning and inspiring!