By TIM ROWDEN
Ferguson – Natalie DuBose poured her life savings into opening a small bakery on South Florissant Road in Ferguson.
She opened for business on June 3, but sales fell flat in August following rioting over the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Her dream threatened to crumble.
Still, DuBose continued to mix and bake. Feeding her children, she said, depended on her selling her baked goods.
Then, on Nov. 24 – the night after a St. Louis County grand jury returned “no true bill,” choosing not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death – protesters and rioters took to the streets. Protesters marched and chanted. Thugs smashed windows and started fires.
Three teens threw a chair through the front window of Natalie’s Cakes and More, sending shards of glass into the cake boxes, behind the counter and into mixing bowls.
Last week, a fellow small business owner, John DeBold of Glass Concepts, a member of Glaziers Local 513, with the help and Local 513 Business Manager Mark Kuhlenberg and retirees Charlie Raftery and Steve Kirwan replaced the plywood that covered her shattered window with clear Plexiglass.
“To see somebody like this, trying to start a business to support herself and put her kids through school, getting knocked down for no reason, it hurts, and we want to step in and help,” Kuhlenberg said.
DeBold said he saw DuBose’s story on the Internet and knew he needed to do something.
“We just went into business ourselves,” DeBold said.
“It’s hard to start a business, so I contacted the union and told them I would donate the labor if they could pay for the materials.”
‘I’LL BE ABLE TO CONTINUE’
Grinning from ear-to-ear, DuBose took a break from her baking to give hugs and thank DeBold, Kuhlenberg and the union for their help.
“It means I’ll be able to continue taking care of my children,” she said. DuBose has an 11-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son.
“I’ve invested everything I have getting this opened,” DuBose said of her bakery. “This is going to allow me to keep going, taking care of my family. I appreciate it so much.”
On the night of the riots, Post-Dispatch photographer Robert Cohen took a picture of DuBose standing in front of her store in tears. The photo was picked up by other media and broadcast worldwide.
“I was so hurt,” she said. “I thought, wow, these people really don’t care.”
DuBose had 40 orders waiting to be filled for Thanksgiving. The next day, she called her customers and arranged with volunteers to hand-deliver her cakes and pies for Thanksgiving.
While she worked, human kindness began pouring in.
Two fundraising sites were established to raise money for her on the Internet.
Fellow business owners stopped by her store with small donations and words of encouragement. Others volunteered to sweep or do dishes.
Local artists painted the plywood that was used to cover her windows.
Kuhlenberg stopped by with a measuring tape and told DuBose what the union and DeBold planned to do.
He told DuBose they’d replace the plywood with clear Plexiglass then, come back when tensions have eased and the region has begun to heal itself, to replace the Plexiglass with glass.
“This is nothing new,” Kuhlenberg told the Labor
Tribune. “This is what unions do across the city throughout the year. I don’t think people know it, but they should.”