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Things are cooking in north Minneapolis

John Tarrant helps a young mom who participates in the Cookie Cart nutritional program.

John Tarrant helps a young mom who participates in the Cookie Cart nutritional program.

The Cookie Cart is a unique learning / employment initiative.

Baking cookies is providing some dough for teens and community programs on Minneapolis’ north side.
A 15-year-old program there provides teens with paid employment opportunities while teaching them about food preparation and operations management. The Cookie Cart Bak-ery turns out tasty cookies while teaching kids marketable skills.
Among churches that buy cookies from the organization are Valley of Peace and Elim Lutheran congregations (both ELCA).
For John Tarrant the Cookie Cart experience had unexpected results. As a retired certified master baker, he came in to give a few days’ technical help in the baking operation.
That was four years ago. Now Tarrant is executive director of The Cookie Cart Learning Center, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth through entrepreneurial programs, leadership training and youth development.
“The employment and life skills gained by youth participants prepare them for positive, productive fu-tures as active members of the community,” says the group’s brochure.
The non-profit is housed in a brightly-decorated structure at 1119 West Broadway. A recent addition to the operations is a coffee shop open to the public. Windows in the coffee shop give customers a view into the production area where youths work at turning out a variety of cookies. That area sparkles with stainless steel tables and commercial-scale equipment. An oven, donated by General Mills, Inc., is capable of baking 40 dozen cookies every eight minutes.
Downstairs in the building is an enrichment center where younger children learn about art and participate in their own art projects. Upstairs is a learning center with spaces for kids to do homework, a computer area and comfortable lounge area for kids to hang out in a wholesome environment. Tarrant says one of the goals of the programs is to encourage kids to stay in school.
The Cookie Cart building hums with activity throughout the day. From 9 a.m. to noon there’s a program that works with developmentally challenged youth. From noon to 2 p.m. there’s a nutrition program for teen mothers. And, from 3 to 6 p.m. about 50 school kids are there to bake cookies.
For a longer version of this story, including details about how the Cookie Cart program got its start, go to www.metro lutheran.org.
This summer 120 youngsters will participate in the Prudential Youth Leadership program. For many, it’s a place to learn basic skills and hold their first paying job. They also learn math and customer service.
The idea for baking cookies as a means of helping kids was conceived by Sister Jean Theuraf. It initially operated out of her home near the site of the present Cookie Cart operation on West Broadway. The charitable effort continues under Tarrant who believes, “The vocation of charity is the heart of evangelism.”
The initiative’s successes include Suwah Tobah, a graduate of the program, who now works in the Cookie Cart office. A native of Liberia, Africa, and a junior at Metro State University, she says, “The Cookie Cart is a good support system. They pushed me to do better in school, and there were tutors to help with homework. They even came to parent-teacher conferences.”
Support for the Cookie Cart comes about in a variety of ways. An example was when John Tarrant and the Rev. Jim Martin, formerly at Elim Lutheran Church in Robbinsdale, were roommates at the Masonic Home for rehabilitation after hip replacement surgery. Tar-rant talked up the Cookie Cart program. When Pastor Martin’s turn came for arranging for refreshments between Sunday services at Elim, he elected to order nine dozen cookies from the Cookie Cart instead of the usual donuts. In addition to the quality of the cookies, Pastor Martin said, “I want to expose our parish to the broader outlook on life. One of the ways is through the Cookie Cart.”
Sales of cookies help support the activities at the Cookie Cart Learning Cen-ter. Cookies are sold in a variety of ways. They’re sold over the counter in the coffee shop, boxed for organizations in quantities to 200 dozen, in decorative trays and with gift packaging. There are even clear packages of two cookies designed to include promotional messages.
For more information about cookie purchases, call 612-521-0855 Monday-Fri-day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or, visit the coffee shop at 1119 West Broadway. Cookies may be ordered online at www.cookiecart.org. For more information about the Cookie Cart, call John Tarrant at 612-521-0855. There’s a new three-minute video telling the Cookie Cart story which may be borrowed