UNION, NJ — A group of women are “Baking it Forward” in search of peace and friendship.
Launched on Jan. 1, the “Love thy Neighbor and Bake it Forward” movement was founded by several women who wanted to something to heal the divide that they felt during and after the election season.
In order to do this, they decided to bake banana bread and hand it out to people — most of whom were total strangers — in order to promote peace and unity.
Ann Marie Filidoro, who grew up in Union, told the Union Leader that she felt she had to do something when she saw the increasing divide among people in general.
“With all the division and issues in our country in the last 24 months, I felt I had to do something to help try to heal the country,” Filidoro said in a phone call the week of Feb. 20. “With all that’s going on, I said, ‘that’s it, I’m starting my own movement.” I started baking banana breads and visiting neighbors, some who I know and some that I’ve never met before.”
According to Filidoro, she knocked on doors, introduced herself and offered the freshly baked breads to her neighbors.
“I introduced myself, stating, ‘I’m your neighbor, and I want to wish you a happy new year,’” Filidoro said. “I said, ‘I baked a banana bread for you. With all division in the country right now, I’m just trying to bring some peace and love to people.’”
Filidoro said the reaction was always positive.
“At that point, almost all of my neighbors had big smiles and invited me in,” she said. “We’d talk a bit and I asked them if they would consider baking it forward, if they would then bake something for another neighbor.”
Filidoro said that her idea took off and grew to a group of five women hailing from Union, Elizabeth, Eatontown and Denville.
Brenda Avila, a longtime Union resident, said she met several of the other women in the Bake it Forward movement through church.
“I heard about the idea and loved it,” Avila told the Union Leader in a phone call the week of Feb. 20. “Elizabeth and Union are very multicultural towns; they are very diverse,” Avila said. “I said it was a nice idea. I had never taken the time to meet our neighbors.”
Avila, who is a teacher, said another woman in the group invited the group to her house and the movement started coming together.
“It kind of grew from there,” Avila said. “We knew we wanted to do something, especially now. There’s so much tension, especially with immigrants. We wanted to show that not everyone is negative about that. We embrace immigrants from other countries. We want to show our neighbors that we love them, no matter their beliefs. We genuinely love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
The women decided that baking all together in one kitchen would be a fun and productive way of setting out to bake dozens of banana breads all at the same time.
“The idea was to do something, and to make something easy that we can all make together at the same time,” Avila said.
According to Avila, the group split up the ingredients, with some bringing lemon and sour cream, and others bringing bananas and other ingredients.
“We all got together in one kitchen and baked,” Avila said. “Actually, it was quite fun. Anyone can do this. You can host a Bake it Forward party.”
The impact of the simple gesture hit home soon after Avila became involved.
Avila said she decided to hand out the homemade breads to some of the teachers she works with, as well as a custodian.
“We have a new custodian at the school and, when my son got sick, he was very kind and helpful to him,” Avila said. “This man took the time to be kind to my son. A lot of people forget about the maintenance people.”
Avila said she decided to give the custodian a banana bread to show her gratitude.
“He was so surprised that I took the time to find him,” she said. “He was smiling and humbled. It really brought joy to him.”
The baked offering has been a great way to connect with neighbors, Avila added, saying that she recently gave a bread to a neighbor she hardly knew.
“We ended up having a really nice conversation,’ she said. “When you share the bread, people open up. It’s a nice way to break the ice. We’re so busy, and we don’t really take the time to talk to people.”
Filidoro said that her goal is for the movement to grow.
“My goal is to have this spread across the country,” she said. “It’s so simple. It’s a way to bring peace and love thy neighbor. It’s just about loving people. We’re trying to bring peace in these crazy times. A lot of people I went to visit have opposing views, and that’s OK. If someone actually took the time to bake and bring it to someone, that’s a very touching thing. It touches the heart.”