The aroma of almond brittle — butter, sugar, chocolate and almonds — drifted into the hallway of the former Sts. Simon and Jude School, where an old classroom has been converted into a kitchen turning out confections.
“I haven’t smelled this in two years!” Debra Kehl, a volunteer candy maker and director, said with a laugh.
It’s a sign that Candy for Caring is back in business. The nonprofit has been on a two-year hiatus while searching for a new place to call home. On April 18, candy production resumed.
In 2019, Candy for Caring lost its volunteer-run production center at the former Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital when the property was sold to UofL Health. The operation had worked in a kitchen there and in several houses nearby making candy to sell at local hospitals, in gift shops, during Christmas bazaars and through direct orders.
Proceeds from candy sales have been donated to local charities since shortly after Sister of Charity of Nazareth Margaret Regina Murphy founded it in 1996.
The charity estimates that its confection operation generated more than $150,000 in donations between 2014 and 2019. In 2019, it donated $70,000 to charities such as the Schuhmann Social Service Center, Hildegard House and Franciscan Kitchen.
Before losing its production center, Candy for Caring operated under the wing of the SCNs. After UofL Health bought its property, the non-profit obtained a 501(c)(3) designation and began a city-wide search for a new location. Kehl said that’s when Sts. Simon and Jude Church business manager, Charlie Hulsman, offered the space.
Candy for Caring is now one of four businesses that rent space in the old classrooms of Sts. Simon and Jude. And after updating their rented rooms and passing a health inspection, volunteers were able to resume production.
The now up-to-code space includes a ramp over a short set of stairs, a three-compartment sink, extra electrical outlets and a ventilation system. Freezers, refrigerators and shelving now line the walls.
“Sts. Simon and Jude has bent over backward for us,” said volunteer Marie White, who is the organization’s president. “They’re letting us store our stuff in that building. They have really been a great partner.”
Martie Bertrand and White, who have been volunteering for 12 and 14 years respectively, wore gloves and hairnets while chatting about production and volunteer schedules.
The nonprofit boasted more than 60 volunteers at its old location. During the pandemic, that number dropped to six. Now, there are 50 volunteers on Candy for Caring’s roster. Bertrand and White joked that most volunteers are retirees and that the average age is 65 to 70.
“We are thrilled to be back,” White said. “All of our volunteers are thrilled to be back.”
In years past, the production schedule has been making candy four days a week and selling candy one day a week. White said she didn’t know if that would change now, but it worked before and they would try to keep a similar schedule.
As they chatted on the morning of April 18, Bertrand stood over a cast-iron skillet, constantly stirring butter and sugar to make the almond brittle base. White spread chocolate and almond slivers onto baking sheets filled with brittle.
Now that Candy for Caring’s production is up and running, the nonprofit is looking for ways to boost sales.
“The opportunity we need is where to sell our candy,” Kehl said. “If people have stores, bakeries, gift shops, we would sell to them.”
She said they can also take personal orders over the phone. The candy makes good gifts for clients and staff members too, she said, noting that people like bankers and real estate agents order often.
Beyond needing places to sell the candy, Kehl said production expenses have risen in the new space.
“We’re paying for things now that we’ve never paid for before,” Kehl said. “Rent, utilities, phone lines, insurance.”
Not to mention how much food and goods prices have increased, she noted.
“Everything is made from scratch by batch,” White said as she used a spatula to spread brittle to the edges of a baking sheet. “It’s not mass-produced.”
Although Candy for Caring volunteers are excited to get back to making candy, a lot of things have changed since it existed under the SCNs.
They’ve gone from 10 large freezers in their old space to two in the new location and are in need of more, Kehl said.
“We’d like upright freezers but we’ll take anything we can get,” Bertrand said.
The volunteers also need a printer/copier and ink to make labels, as well as paper towels, wax paper and aluminum foil.
Kehl said Candy for Caring does what it does “all for the love of local charities.”
“As individuals, we can’t give $2,000 scholarships,” she said. “But as a group, we can really make a difference.”
Beyond almond brittle, Candy for Caring sells chocolate turtles, bourbon balls, peanut butter cups, six types of fudge and an array of chocolate-covered items like cherries, raisins and peanuts.
To place an order, discuss candy sales or support the charity’s work with a donation, call 625-5412.