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The gift of kindness: How Good Bitches Baking is transforming prisoners' lives with an act as simple as baking

Good Bitches Baking co-founders Marie Fitzpatrick (left) and Nicole Murray

Making baked goods for those in need sounds like a simple task rather than a revolution, but sometimes small acts of kindness can also be the most transformative. This is what’s seen the charity Good Bitches Baking grow from humble beginnings in Wellington into a nationwide movement. Now, it’s turning its hand to helping rehabilitate prisoners through the therapeutic act of baking, with the goods then given to women’s refuge – giving two of the groups in our society that are most in need of some love a helping hand.

The driving idea behind Good Bitches Baking is an ambitious one: to make New Zealand the kindest place on earth. But at the rate at which the charity has scaled up, it might not be too lofty a goal.

In four years, Good Bitches Baking has grown from a two-person operation into a nationwide movement, with 18 chapters around New Zealand, 1700 volunteers (and a waiting list of eager people keen to participate), as well as 500,000 satisfied receivers of the goods.  

Co-founder Nicole Murray says inspiration struck for Good Bitches Baking when her and fellow co-founder Marie Fitzpatrick were drunk and musing about how the world around them was getting a bit grim. Refuges were full, there were increasing numbers of homeless people on the street and a lot of people seemed to be having a rough time getting by in life.

“We were having a whinge about that, and then we thought, ‘Maybe rather than talking about it, we should try help, even if it’s just in our own communities.’ We’d noticed in the course of our own experiences that small acts of kindness often help you get through a day you didn’t think you could get through,” Murray says.

One particular experience planted the seed of an idea for Good Bitches Baking. Murray is very close to her nephew, who is currently battling cancer.

She says one day at work, she’d been crying in the toilets for half an hour about it and returned to her desk to find someone had left a warm cheese scone and coffee there.

“To this day, I don’t know who it was, but the thought that someone had noticed my distress and tried to cheer me up in whatever way they could – it really touched me and stayed with me,” Murray says. “We thought we’d built on that, give people treats and see if it gave them five minutes happiness on a shitty day.”

Good Bitches Baking was born, delivering home-baked goods to people going through tough times, from families with children in hospital, to women’s refuges, to hospice residents. When it started out, Murray says the two co-founders had no idea the charity would reach the heights it’s gotten to today.

 They thought it would be a local community initiative that a dozen or so of their friends would get on board with, and that’s where it would stop. They thought wrong.


Good Bitches Baking released a cookbook, Bloody Good Baking, last year 

See, the secret to its success is while baking is the vehicle, what's actually being transferred between the volunteers and the people they’re giving the food to is kindness. And in this remarkably busy day and age, a small act like this goes a long way. 

“The feedback from people about how much it meant to them that a stranger was thinking about them and caring enough to go into the trouble of making a treat was incredibly meaningful and powerful,” Murray says.

But the kindness is also reciprocal, with volunteers also reaping benefits in terms of their mental health from helping someone in need.

This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high”, as according to research from Emory University, an act of kindness towards another causes the brain’s pleasure and reward centres to light up as if the giver of the good deed were actually the recipient.

Good Bitches Baking’s latest act of kindness is expanding into prisons in a new initiative dubbed ‘Prison Bake’. In a pilot programme, it partnered up with Rimutaka Prison to give prisoners the opportunity to bake for people as a way to give back to the community, while learning some new skills along the way.

Teams of its volunteers went into the prisons and collaborated on cakes, slices and more with incarcerated men.

“In the course of this work, we were thinking about the opportunity we have through what we’ve learnt about how meaningful it is to be kind, as well as receiving kindness,” Murray says.

“I was reflecting on what groups of people could most benefit from receiving kindness or being able to be kind and started thinking about prisoners, because they fit into both of those categories.”


Good Bitches Baking's team of prison volunteers 

They decided another way for the project to be especially impactful was to give the baking made to women’s refuge.

“Potentially some of these men are in jail for domestic violence offenses, so we thought maybe as well as giving the men a chance to benefit from volunteering, perhaps we could help with the healing process with those women – seeing those men or types of men reach out in a sweet gesture of kindness,” Murray says.

“That theory has absolutely been validated through the trial, the men and the women have responded really positively from it.”

She says the prisoners were at first surprised and moved to learn the Good Bitches Bake volunteers were there out of their own accord, not because they were paid to be or affiliated with a church.

As for the volunteers, she says they left every season in tears because of how overwhelmingly positive the entire experience was.

“Quite a lot of the volunteers we took in there said, ‘I thought I was open-minded when I went in, but this has challenged me and made me think about my biases and made me think differently about these men.’”

In the evaluation interviews with the prisoners following the experience, the men shared that their learnings went far deeper than how to follow a recipe.

“One of them said, ‘I’ve Iearnt I can be a kind person and I didn’t actually know that,’” Murray says. “Another talked about how he couldn’t recall in his life on the outside ever doing something for someone else for the sake of it and he’d been surprised at how good it felt, and he talked about how much he wanted to keep doing things like this because it made him feel good.”

She says she hopes the work they’re doing inspires people to think about their own attitudes towards prisoners, who may not necessarily be bad people, but have done one bad thing.  

“Having an open heart and an open mind could go a long way,” she says.

As for the future of the Prison Bake programme, Good Bitches Baking is keen to see it be rolled out nationwide seeing as the results were so encouraging, but it’s dependent on funding.

The charity’s funds are tight, as it currently runs off an annual appeal on Givealittle, a grant from the Lion Foundation, and profits netted from its merchandise, like the cookbook it released last year.

Currently, its two co-founders work regular jobs and do the Good Bitches Baking work pro-bono on the side, while paying a part-time person to do 20 hours of work a week to coordinate its 1700 volunteers.

“Grants are hard to come by and as of yet, we haven’t managed to get corporate sponsorship for our work, which I think is disappointing. The kauapapa behind our work and why we do it, I feel like we’d be a good organisation for someone to align with,” Murray says.

“We haven’t slept much in four years. Although it’s seriously exhausting, the messages we get from people who’ve received a treat from us about how much it touched them or helped them get through a day they couldn’t get through keeps us going and we think there’s such an opportunity to make New Zealand better through this sort of work, so we can’t stop.”

And as for its big, audacious goal, Murray says there’s potential for its model to be expanded into to other skill areas – it’s just a matter of finding a fun, easy way for people to make a small difference, while being connected to a larger movement.

“We’ve proven you can do that through appealing to bakers, but there’s no reason why we couldn’t use the same concept and methodology to encourage people to do different methods of volunteering. We’re not quite at the point of launching another arm, but you can imagine gardening, DIY-type services or any skill that a large population might have to assist others in the community.”

Overall, Murray says she’s happy to be helping spread a little positivity in this often-scary world.

“Even though sometimes the world seems like a trash fire, there are things you can do that can make it better place.”

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