Local bakery serves customers while helping community

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A bakery in east Memphis is working hard to give back.

The enticing smell of warm sugar cookies overwhelms a shopping center off Poplar near Shady Grove, because Sweet Lala’s just moved in.

“Some days I come in and package. I’m the fastest packager,” employee Erin Tillman said. His journey started a few years ago. “I got into some trouble when I was 14. Hanging with the wrong people,” he said.

Juvenile Court turned into JIFF, which stands for Juvenile Intervention and Faith-based Follow-up. It’s a re-entry program for juvenile offenders. “They got me on the right path,” Tillman said.

Sweet Lala’s partnered with JIFF in 2014.

Co-owner Lauren Young rented JIFF’s facility to bake her cookies, while employing their graduates to help build their resumes. “All of the kids had three or more offenses with juvenile court. We found it’s hard to get employment with a felony charge.”

So far, she’s worked with more than 80 at-risk kids. “Last year was a tough year. Four of our kids we employed were killed. Three to gun violence, and to a high-speed chase,” Young said.

But so many more stories have been a success. Take John Young for example. He’s now the kitchen’s team leader. “It’s been a life changing journey. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way.”

Sweet Lala’s also works with several other charitable groups including Thistle and Bee, which helps survivors of sex trafficking.

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