WEATHERFORD — The Lord's Prayer includes the words, “give us this day our daily bread.”
One day, Deb Hanson took that daily bread, the Scripture of Romans 15:13, and watched it ultimately become the Sweetness Factory. Now, Tuesdays through Saturdays, the Weatherford business makes cupcakes, cookies, brownies and various pastries, not for Hanson's personal profit, but so that the funds can be donated to feed hungry children in western Oklahoma.
Hanson's health has been a long-term struggle. Five years ago she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Hanson was told her organs would start shutting down. She was not given a good prognosis. This came after she had already dealt with cancer several years earlier and was continuing to deal with several other conditions already brought on by the lupus.
“I was encouraged by my doctors to go for whatever dreams I had then and not wait for the future,” said Hanson, 44.
She soon began to flood her mind and heart with Scripture and felt led to Romans 15:13, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“As I was praying and believing that God would show me His way, I read an article in the local newspaper that crushed my heart,” Hanson said.
An elementary school student had asked her teacher for a half-eaten banana out of the trash can, because the child was hungry. Hanson said school officials monitored the child and found she was hoarding food scraps during lunch. School officials found other students weren't being fed during the weekends.
They contacted the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. The Food for Kids program came to Weatherford, specifically the backpack program, which provides backpacks of sustainable food to children in need over the weekend and holidays.
As Hanson read the article, her tears fell onto the newspaper. She continues to cry for that little girl. But more than just shedding tears, she began acting on the pain she felt for a child she didn't know.
“My husband (Tim) and I immediately gave a donation to the Food for Kids program, but it just didn't feel like we were to donate and walk away,” she said.
And they didn't.
On Oct. 2, 2012, they opened the Sweetness Factory. It is not a nonprofit.
“Instead we have made a commitment and choose to be a not for personal profit business,” she said. “We cash out the register, pay our utilities, supplies and employees and donate the remainder to Food for Kids programs serving western Oklahoma.
“We send the funds directly to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and earmark the funds for schools in western Oklahoma that need help completing their funding.”
In the first year of business at 500 N Washington Ave., they were able to provide funding for 23,840 meals for children in that area of the state, Hanson said.
The family lives off Tim's salary as a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
Tim, 44, also helps Deb and their son, Parker, 16, run the shop along with “13 fabulous employees who work long hours because they too believe in our mission.”
“Every once in a while you come across someone in life who goes above and beyond,” said Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “Deb Hanson is one of those people. Her compassion and selflessness are humbling. Her generosity has provided food and hope for hundreds of chronically hungry children.”
As a child, Hanson would spend time with her grandparents on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. When they went to the bakery, she would sit and watch the workers, scan through the cake books and listen to the comments from customers.
“It was and stayed one of my favorite places until my grandparents passed,” she said. “I never realized my time there was God's preparation for what He had planned for my life in the future.”
About the time she read the article of the little girl asking for the half-eaten banana, Hanson had started to help cater events at their church and was teaching herself to create elaborate cakes. She also helped with baking for events at her son's school. Together, this led to her getting requests and even suggestions to open her own shop. She had no intention of starting a business.
“Finally after battling myself, God helped me realize that He had given me my talent so that I could help others and not myself,” she said. “I sat down with my husband and told him I wanted to open a bakery and donate my proceeds to feeding children.
“He was completely behind the idea, but we were both afraid because we knew it would take a lot of time, energy and finances. God was faithful and brought back to our minds Philippians 4:6, ‘Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.' We decided to go for it.”
Cooking up support
So many have joined in. Vendors helped with lowering the price of items Hanson would need. Many businesses have done various things to help keep costs down. There are five businesses that are the “after-hours angels.” They buy what is left at the end of the day for a reduced price and then share the items with customers, public service employees, schools and shelters.
Also, a representative of a business walked in one time and bought every item they had made for the day. People have walked in and just donated $500. Children have brought in their savings and dumped them into the donation jar.
Daily, Hanson watches the blessings unfold.
Since opening the shop, Hanson's health has continued to be a struggle. She was diagnosed with two more types of cancer and has had two surgeries since.
“I am told I am again cancer-free, however I am still struggling with some symptoms that have yet to be diagnosed,” she said. “I continue to move ahead and do what I have been called to do and pray for medical wisdom and healing.
“God trumped my goals by so much, that I have now not set future goals. I just pray for guidance and hold on for the ride.”