The lesson these generous hands taught me

The Lesson

By Manolo Betancur

(Charlotte NC, March 27 – 2022) The story that I am about to tell, it’s about the person behind the hands in the picture, five hundred dollars, and the lesson of love and wisdom that a 74 old baker in my bakery, taught me while I am preparing my trip to Poland to complete my mission: deliver the money we collect for Ukrainian people in need.

All started with a first thought.

It happened Tuesday, February 24. I woke up. I check the news -something I do every day-. And then I stay reading about how Russia invades Ukraine, and how civilians start getting killed. My first thought was:  I’m not gonna let anyone do that.

I will have a gun again in my hands, like I did 22 years ago in Colombia. I had already shot an M-16 or AK-47, impossible to forget how to use one of those, I did it in Colombia. I can do it again.

(It was the ex-Navy official that I am, whispering over my shoulder).  

I’m gonna start helping Ukrainians. 

I want to start fighting for freedom, in another’s words, becoming a mercenary. That was my first thought.

But, then I realized “Hello… Hello…”.

Another voice in my head said: 

Remember, you are a father, you have two children, they need you. Your business needs you. You are a husband, a friend, and your mother will be devastated

No. I can’t go there to grab a gun and be part of a militia. So I ask loudly alone driving to work:

¿What can I do? ¿What can we do?.

I am always thinking in the plural, as the mission of my bakery. 

Our bread, our people, our future.  

I need to do something.

I can’t be here, doing anything about it. So I started creating ideas.

The first thing that came to my head- King Cake for Mardi Gras celebrations in Charlotte.

Well, tomorrow we work for Mardi Gras, we are making cakes. Yeah, the king cakes, that’s It! Usually it’s a good moment for the bakery, but mostly with the latin community, not too much with our American clients.

But that was going to change.

I have always donated 10% for that sale, for different causes or organizations. So, this time 10% of sales it’s gonna be to help Ukrainian people 

And I will start talking with my friends about which people we should help.

Expecting the unexpected.

At this point, everything seems normal, many people like me are trying to help move by the evident injustice. But step by step, very unexpected and touching things start happening. 

First was the King Cake for Mardi Gras. The traditional colors of this American tradition help to connect the idea with the Ukrainian people, and the donations started.

That was a good beginning.

Then I thought about the design of a cake -with the colors of the Ukrainian flag- and designing a donut too.

And any net profit from that sale, where to help these people over there, that was my second Thought breaking truth. 

I realize again, I am a baker now. I am an Idea Entrepreneur, a community activist in Charlotte. I have a duty as World Bread Hero USA 2021. 

My years on the other side of the war as part of an army have passed, now I am helping make change possible by baking happiness, love, and kindness from our hands to your heart. -That was my third thought-.

Then people know about it and we go from there. 

Help is coming.

So the following day, I wrote a post on my website and my social media. I did it because it is the way to get the word out fast, but I did not expect such a great reaction. 

Usually at the bakery we used to sell no more than forty King Cakes. 

We collected much more than we expected.

My fellow Americans keep coming and keep coming, and calling for more and more, and they keep calling and ordering online. 

And I said, what!

So I have to tell my people we are not going to make more bread, not more cakes, we are just  gonna make king cakes, because people keep coming and keep coming, buying, helping and taking kIng Cakes.  

So I said gosh…

The sense of community that  this city has  is beautiful, not only of this city, all of the country. This is one of the beauties in the United States of America. 

How people care and give, sacrifice and donate for the people in need, it really touches my heart. 

We at the bakery have a wonderful day, a wonderful week, but the most important thing that happens is that we collect together  3.500 USD Dollars to donate.

Something weird happen 

Then I went to the bank to send the money for some Ukrainian people Vet Crew Leonid & Valentina Stoynov Instagram: @vet.crew )  And when I gave the information to the bank they were so complicated and annoying… I didn’t like it.

I start singing in my mind  “Oh…What a wonderful world”.  

At that moment another idea came to my head. 

What about also something similar like José Andrés, does work for the Central kitchen, he goes to help restaurants. 

What about if I go  to help bakeries, and I said ok. 

I started with Pavlo Servetnyk

I wanna go to Poland and start with Poland bakeries that are the ones that are actually capable of helping Ukrainian refugees.  

When I was in the middle of looking for bakeries in Poland, we made some good connections. So I told my friend Nathan Arledge of The Myers Park United  Methodist Church that I have the intention to help in Poland by visiting bakeries. Buy bread and cakes from them, and take them to the refugees. I am sure that there are Uckranians there that need a birthday cake to forget the war for a little while and celebrate life, no matter the circumstances.

Nathan liked the idea, and he was willing to help me get this cause even bigger. Not only buying the airplane tickets to Poland, helping me connect to other people in Poland, so this cause has more impact. 

Generosity is contagious

I was very grateful, for me and for all the folks that trust us buying at the bakery.  The only thing that he said is, my schedule in April is full, what about if we go in May.

So there is a moment that made this story more special and mindful, it happened when I had a meeting with all my team in the bakery. 

I told them: 

“Hey guys we are in a war, anything helps I planned to go to Poland with the help of the Methodist Church and our clients, you guys will be here in the bakery by yourself, please take care of the business”.

When I finish the meeting then I have the payroll , and one of my elderly employs approach me in my office with an unexpected offering. 

It was march 15th, payroll day. and my oldest baker here (74 years old)  appears. 

I paid him the work of his week (931 USD). He received the payment and went out, as always, but suddenly he came back.

He came back to my office and he said with a determined voice: 

– Manolo can I talk  with you- 

– I say , yes of course, everything is good with your pay-. 

– Yes everything it’s alright-.

So this gentleman, this great baker said to me:

– Manolo, are you still going to Poland? 

– Yes I am, I have airplane tickets for the 9th of May.

And in that instant, from the money that I just give him minutes ago, he give me back (500 dollars) the 50% of what have earned that week, and he told me:

“I want you to take this money, and help people there”.

I Almost cried in front of him. 

I didn’t do it, because of the respect that he deserves for this generous gesture.  

It’s a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, a lot of early rise ups and heavy materials that he has to carry in order to make the money, and he gave it to me for the refugees in Poland.

-¿Why are you doing  this?-.

– It’s my responsibility as a son of god, to help my brothers and sisters around the world-. He said.

– ¿Are you sure?-

– Any person that has a good heart, and says that is a son of god, has to take responsibility to help the people that are in need-.

I shake his generous hands with pride, pride to be near to a great man and a great baker.

¿How can we describe the wisdom and love of his words? 

The power of what he has just done and told us, it goes round and round in my head.

So with his help I want to use  this message for good. I want to amplify this experience and send a message for all the bakers in the world. 

We can do this and more for the people that need it.  If a baker with a modest income can do this for people in need, imagine what can you do?

Invitation to help

If you are the CEO of a big company -“So, I guess my question to you is what are you doing to help people in need?-.

If you have money in your pocket, you have power to save a life.

Remember the generous hands and heart of my baker friend. I hope that generosity turns contagious.

I want to leave you with my last thought.

¿Who helps who when you decide to be kind?

By Manolo Betancur

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