Naperville Bakery aims to provide an inclusive work environment for adults of all abilities
Megan and Justin Elder have long dreamed of making the world a smoother and more inclusive place, especially for people with disabilities.
This is the driving force behind Moose & Me Bakery, an operation launched from their Naperville home that aims to hire employees of all skill levels. And that’s why they hope to soon open a storefront and grow their team with the help of an online fundraiser.
In less than three weeks, the bakery’s Kickstarter campaign raised over $ 40,000 of a goal of $ 50,000.
âIt shows that this is something that is wanted and needed in our community,â said Justin Elder. “We are on track to make this dream a reality.”
Longtime residents of the Naperville area, the Elders began a ministry for adults and youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities about 15 years ago.
âWe don’t do that anymore, but it’s been a passion for us for a long time,â said Justin.
The couple have since adopted two daughters with Down’s syndrome, Mila and Audrey, whose long-term aspirations and opportunities are often a priority.
Naperville schools are known for their special education programs, their father said, but integrated employment is harder to find.
âOur disabled adults are sort of aging, and there isn’t a great place for them,â he said.
Eight-year-old Mila, nicknamed “Moose,” grew up cooking with her mother, who often bakes sweet treats for her friends and family.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Justin Elder and Megan began to think about how to spend their extra time – and turn their hobby into a business where their daughters could one day work.
Moose & Me Bakery started last year but has been temporarily suspended to finalize license details, he said. The operation was relaunched on March 21 to mark World Down’s Syndrome Day.
âAs we looked globally at what we can do in our community, this was one way of looking at inclusion within Naperville,â said Justin Elder.
The Elders hired two employees, Jake Lukens, 31, and Michelle Anderson, 26, both with Down syndrome. They are quick learners who take great pride in their work and practice new cooking techniques every day, said Justin Elder.
They also had the opportunity to share their experiences with their friends and family, he said, highlighting a recent birthday party for which the Moose & Me team baked a cake and cupcakes.
And then there’s Mila, the company’s namesake, who has become an integral part of the operation with her enthusiasm and love of being in the kitchen.
âShe enjoys watching and being involved as much as she can be,â her father said. “She’s always the first to greet people at the door and (at events) she’s there to show her mark.”
The bakery has seen a lot of consistent business so far, said Justin Elder, including orders to raise awareness of Down’s syndrome and autism.
In addition to baking cookies, cupcakes and personalized cakes, the team sells their sweets at community events and through partnerships with local businesses.
Moose & Me isn’t just about employing people with Down syndrome, he said, noting that the bakery is “inclusive of everyone” and plans to hire more workers of all abilities as soon as possible. .
The Elders eyed various storefronts in Naperville where they could relocate the business.
In addition to moving in and renovating a new space, the Elders said the money raised through the Kickstarter would be used to purchase baking equipment, such as a large convection oven, commercial blender, refrigerators, freezers, prep tables and supplies.
âWhen we consider spaces, one of the most important aspects we look for is the ability to create a space for meaningful interactions between our employees and our customers,â the owners said on their online fundraising page. . “We hope that a build will highlight the cooking abilities of our employees and give them the opportunity to interact with everyone who enters the store.”