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Oak Park woman creates community by giving away free loaves of bread

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Posted at 5:37 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 20:11:45-05

OAK PARK (WXYZ)  — "One girl, two hands, one ancient Dutch oven. A passion for sourdough. A passion for feeding people," that about sums up Sweetbird Kitchen.

Founder Marilyn Mack Pilchowski of Oak Park said she started experimenting with sourdough in 2017 and has been baking it nearly every day since.

“I’ve been really perfecting my recipe, always in search of the most perfect loaf I can bake,” she said.

But, in her quest to bake the perfect loaf, she started to realize something: “No one in their right mind can eat that much bread, it had to start leaving my house,” laughed Marilyn.

So, about two years ago, Marilyn started giving loaves away — with the efforts really ramping up over the last year.

“A few months ago, so many people started asking me for sourdough that I thought, ‘well, I’ll just sell a loaf here and there, it will keep me in flour, but I’ll still keep giving people bread because it’s a cool thing to do,'” she said.

Marilyn started a ‘sell one, give one’ campaign, where every loaf she sells, she gives another away to a community member for free.

Within a few hours of posting her campaign to a community Facebook page, she said she had well over 200 people messaging her for bread.

“It was insane and it just hasn’t let up,” she said. “Easily 50 percent of the people who buy a loaf of bread give me extra to gift it forward, so someone else can have a free loaf. It’s stunning.”

She said she posts the free bread on her social media and picks the recipient from the comments. Marilyn said she went from giving away three or four loaves of bread a week to giving away 15.

“The response has been huge,” she said, noting that she’s thankful for how patient people are being to receive their ordered baked goods.

Marilyn has a full-time job, so she spends most of the early morning hours getting the bread made.

“I don’t really sleep good . . . so I started using that time as something to do with my hands,” she said.

With her husband having dealt with medical issues and surgery late in 2019, Marilyn said they have had to stay close to home for quite a while, even pre-pandemic. She said she now welcomes interacting with her new bread community.

“I’m having these really cool snippets of conversations with complete strangers on my front porch, handing over a loaf of bread and it makes me so happy,” she said.

Her dream is to eventually see a community bread oven in the Ferndale area, where people could come to bake their bread or other food.

"I think so many people would get a real kick out of having some place to go and do sourdough bread classes . . . baking in the brick oven," she said.