Sanctuary Baking founder Isabella Mastroianni works tirelessly to address food insecurity in Maine. (Miles Bergquist photo)
Walking into the Pathway Vineyard Church in Brunswick, where Isabella Mastroianni toils in the commercial kitchen for Sanctuary Baking, it quickly becomes clear that tireless dedication and passion fuel the operation. Mastroianni and her son, Alexander, dart from one oven to another, frantically checking the 150 oatmeal raisin cookies they are baking.
Some of the cookies will go to a vendor in Brunswick, some to a community meal Mastroianni will be hosting, and some to Harpswell Aging at Home, which provides meals to older residents in need.
Baking more than 100 cookies at once is nothing new for Mastroianni, a native of Keene, New Hampshire, who lives in Harpswell and founded the nonprofit Sanctuary Baking to help address food insecurity here and all over Maine.
Surrey Hardcastle, chair of HAH’s Food Committee, praised Mastroianni for her efforts to help those in need.
“She is a gift to this community. Isabella is a chef and baker beyond compare and is extremely generous in so many ways,” said Hardcastle. “All of us in the food program value her for these things, but we also count her as a dear friend.”
Much of Mastroianni’s community outreach and hard work is rooted in her faith, which she says is central to the mission of Sanctuary Baking. The nonprofit’s motto is: “Baking for the bread of life in such a time as this.”
Of her faith, Mastroianni said, “It is everything. I looked at eight different states in person to determine, ‘Where should the nonprofit be?’ And in the end, I settled on Maine, and I wasn’t quite sure why. But that’s where I felt like God was leading me to.”
Isabella Mastroianni prepares to bake oatmeal raisin cookies in the commercial kitchen at Pathway Vineyard Church in Brunswick. (Miles Bergquist photo)
Much of Mastroianni’s focus is set on helping the homeless population in her adopted home state. She says many misconceptions exist about her fellow residents who are currently unhoused.
“A lot of these people, they’re college graduates,” she explained. “I’ve met doctors and lawyers, and you wouldn’t think this would be the profile of a homeless person. When you enter somebody’s story, you realize this is a real person, and it engages your empathy and your compassion.”
Sanctuary Baking isn’t Mastroianni’s first attempt to form a nonprofit that melds her beliefs and cooking skills. Several years ago, she founded Loaves and Fishers, which provided educational culinary programs for young people. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and devastated many nonprofits in Maine, among them Loaves and Fishers.
“I also lost my job of 16 years,” she said. “So simultaneously I found myself unemployed, no health insurance. And I did not want to see the nonprofit die.”
As the pandemic continued with no signs of slowing, unemployment, homelessness and food insecurity worsened in Maine. Sanctuary Baking was created to help address this problem.
“I spoke to my board of directors, and we just kind of regrouped,” Mastroianni recalled. “Really quickly we came up with the name Sanctuary (Baking), largely because at that point it was out of the sanctuary that was my 1,000-square-foot cottage.”
It wasn’t long before Mastroianni began cooking for a variety of organizations, including the Pathway Vineyard Church; Tedford Housing, which operates two emergency shelters in Brunswick; and HAH’s Meals in a Pinch program.
“Isabella contributes amazing items nearly every delivery,” Hardcastle said of the latter. “Her offerings very well could be coming from a French or Italian patisserie: biscotti, doughnuts, stews, breads, and many more things. They are clearly something special to all who receive them.“
Along with the countless hours she invests in Sanctuary Baking, Mastroianni still manages to work a day job as a business development manager for a company that offers cruises and rail tours. However, she says her sense of joy and satisfaction will always come from the act of giving.
“It’s hard work. It’s hot work. But I have never felt such joy or peace.”
For more information on Sanctuary Baking, or to donate, go to sanctuarybaking.org.