Women’s Bean Project: 30 years of finding self-sufficiency in a pot of soup

The Women’s Bean Project in Denver has helped more than 1,000 women break the cycle of poverty through employment

In 1989, Jossy Eyre invested $500 of her own money to help women find self-sufficiency by making and selling a simple bean soup mix. It worked then — and it’s still working today.

In the last 30 years, the Women’s Bean Project in Denver has helped more than 1,000 women break the cycle of poverty through employment.

“What we’ve been able to do is take all these aspects of what it means to run a business, but have the business have a purpose,” CEO Tamra Ryan says.

Each year, the project employs 60 to 70 women and distributes its products — which have expanded from bean soup into dog treats, spice blends, popcorn and more — to more than 1,000 stores and online retailers across the country.

The nonprofit conducts outreach in the city’s treatment programs, halfway houses, correction centers and shelters, but most are referred by past employees.

The women in the program generally haven’t held a job for more than a year due to incarceration, addiction or lack of child care or education, among other things, Ryan says. “The one thing I’ve learned is that barriers never happen singularly. There’s not just one challenge that somebody has to overcome in order to move to mainstream employment. It’s always complicated and interwoven.”

Women spend six to nine months in the program working in the food manufacturing business, making and packing all the products they sell. At the same time, they participate in classes and programming to gain career and life skills that will lead to gainful employment.

Some 70% of the women graduate from the program, and a year later, 95% are still employed.

“We’re teaching people to work by actually working, so the women are an integral part of our business and helping us make the product and get the product out the door,” Ryan says. “Our ability to deliver on our mission is based on our ability to sell our products.”

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