Cookie Cart: Program puts the cart before the career

Student employees at Cookie Cart, a north Minneapolis nonprofit, also work outside the bakery by pitching the program at job and career fairs.
For more information about Cookie Cart, call (612) 521-0855 or visit cookiecart.org.

Unless you’ve attempted to crack three eggs without dropping a piece of eggshell, you may not see baking as inherently strategic. But it requires precise steps to reach a goal.

And that goal is delicious baked goods—be it cookies, cake or whatever gooey treat your heart desires.

Cookie Cart, a North Minneapolis nonprofit, offers teens the opportunity to gain professional skills by working in a commercial-style bakery while making, decorating and selling cookies. The products are sold both in stores and local businesses, including Cargill and Land O’ Lakes, which are both partners of the organization.

“I know it is challenging to get those first jobs or other opportunities, especially in that (North Minneapolis) neighborhood,” said Meggie McCauley, Cookie Cart’s sales and community outreach manager. “We have a good standing in the community, and a lot of parents push their kids to go to Cookie Cart because of the good reputation that we have.”

Sister Jean Thuerauf, a Catholic nun, founded Cookie Cart in 1988. The company started in her kitchen, and has grown to be an operation with 145 teens employed.

McCauley said Cookie Cart’s goal is to make it easy for teens to apply for and land their first job. The main phone number even has an extension that asks specifically if you are a teen between the ages of 15 to 17 looking for work.

Businesses that teenagers would typically start working in are filled with adults who need those jobs—especially in North Minneapolis, McCauley said. That’s where Cookie Cart can help.

“It’s just to show that North Minneapolis does have something to offer teens who … don’t really have any experience but want a job. We can do something for them and help them later on in life,” said Naomi Montgomery, a sales and community outreach intern at Cookie Cart.

(Teens say) “wow, you know, Cookie Cart is the only job that accepted me, even though I didn’t have any prior experience.”

In addition to a paycheck, the program also offers career readiness classes. It allows teens to learn several new skills upon working in the kitchen.

“I’ve learned communication skills, because normally, I just like working by myself and being independent,” said 16 year-old Deayzha King, of North Minneapolis, who has been working at Cookie Cart since September. “I learned how to work well with others and how to work better in a group.”

Another Cookie Cart employee from the neighborhood, 18 year-old Cameron Crawford, said that he has become more confident around people upon working at Cookie Cart for the past two years.

“I picked up how to be more observant … how to talk to people, how to make eye contact,” Crawford said.

When teenagers first start at Cookie Cart, they are generally in the bakery where they learn to process the dough, pack orders and interact with customers, Montgomery said. Teens eventually work registers and execute larger demands, all while taking classes to learn how to speak at community events, dress for an interview and write a resume.

Montgomery—who started as a youth employee at 16, moved up to bakery assistant and was hired as an intern last year—said she’s “grown up in the organization and has really shown what I can offer.”

“Why I really stayed working at Cookie Cart is because of the teens who work here,” McCauley said. “In my role, as well as Naomi’s, we take a lot of teens on events. And just seeing them having a lot less confidence starting out—being very shy when talking to people—and then seeing them blossom and have confidence … is really why I wanted to work here.”

In the end, more than cookies are made. So are futures.

“And that’s what (Cookie Cart) is all about,” Montgomery said. “It’s just to get you that experience, and help you fill up that resume so that when you have your next job, you’ll have something under your belt to get you there.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shay Radhakrishnan is a junior at Math and Science Academy. Her story on Cookie Cart is part of a package by 12 high school students who participated in ThreeSixty Journalism’s residential Intermediate Camp from June 15 to June 27.

Their stories are centered on youth organizations in the metro area that are cultivating the “next generation” of leaders. Click here to read more from ThreeSixty’s summer camp series.

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