A former Gates Chili educator has given away close to 100,000 loaves of bread in his crusade to share kindness
By Christine Green
Chet Fery, 68, has baked close to 100,000 loaves of bread. He doesn’t own a restaurant or bakery like you might think, though. In fact, he bakes all that bread — every day — in just two ovens in his kitchen in suburban Brockport. What does he do with all that bread?
He gives it away.
Gateway to kindness
Before being labeled “The Bread Man,” Fery was an educator for 33 years. Before he retired from the Gates Chili school district in 2006 he worked as a teacher, counselor and school administrator.
Retirement meant that he had more time to bake, which also meant that the number of people who got a free loaf from him rose, too.
He now gives it away all over the area including the Brockport Farmer’s Market and the Rochester Public Market.
But why make and give away all that bread?
For Fery, it isn’t about the bread at all. It is about sharing kindness in the community. “Bread and kindness have a way of bringing people together,” he said.
Jill Leicht-Zulkosky of Conesus is the former owner of Jill’s Antiques on Main Street in Brockport. Her position behind the counter gave her a special vantage point to watch as Fery shared his bread.
“Over the years I received many loaves of bread from Chet and I watched him surprise customers in my store and around the village with bread,” said Leicht-Zulkosky.
Bread Time Stories
Fery is also a speaker who travels the area demonstrating his bread making and discussing how kindness can change lives. Fery finds that his demonstrations (as well as the scent of fresh baked bread) capture the audiences’ attention in a special way. Bread and baking often spark fond memories and can motivate a person to actively listen.
“Most people have a bread story of their own,” said Fery. “Or they at least have a taste, touch, and smell memory of something baked. When I can get them to reflect on taste, touch and smell as an indelible memory, their mouth starts to water and then I have them.”
Fery often gives talks in schools, teaching students from preschool through high school about kindness. In these venues he sometimes has students help out by mixing ingredients and kneading dough. This is when often tough, no-nonsense students begin to soften to the lesson and absorb the message. A tactile connection to the stories Fery tells helps many people relax. “I get their hands in dough and something releases,” he said.
Lori S. Skelton is the principal at the Hillside Family of Agencies Andrews-Trahey Campus School. She was impressed with Fery’s easy way with students when he spoke at several assemblies for her school:
“Chet was amazing! He talked and told stories, all the while making bread. He asked students questions. The students traditionally have a challenging time meeting new people and building relationships, but Chet’s unassuming and open demeanor helped the students accept him and participate, sharing stories of their own and sharing some of their struggles. They were calm and comfortable in his presence.”
His wife, Marina Fery, has witnessed the positive impact of her husband’s “Bread Time Stories” talks first hand. “You don’t know who you reach or if they listen,” she told 55 Plus and then recounted a story about two middle schools students that approached Fery after a presentation to thank him. Teachers were blown away because these young ladies almost never spoke in school at all.
After a presentation at a middle school in Tonawanda, near Buffalo, Fery challenged the students to perform five acts of kindness every day for five days. The talk was especially impactful because it fell just one week after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fla. By the end of the five day challenge the entire school body had performed over 800 acts of kindness. Fery said this directly demonstrated how “you can control and make the environment you want by what you say and what you do.”
Fery also makes sure local college students can enjoy his bread. Once a month he visits the Newman Center at the College of Brockport and passes out loaves to students in attendance.
Mary Anne Geonie attends mass at Newman and loves seeing the students’ faces when they get a loaf of bread.
She first met Fery in 1973 when they were both working for BOCES 2 and noted that he has always had a special place in his heart for students. “He was always having them work on their inner selves and become better people,” she said.
Fery also assists with staff development at various workplaces. At the time of this interview Skelton had booked Fery for an October trip back to the Andrews-Trahey Campus School to speak to over 300 people for Superintendent’s Conference Day.
“Our staff interact with and influence the lives of young people with varying degrees of trauma in their lives every day. The work can be draining as they experience significant amounts of vicarious trauma themselves. We feel that Chet will provide them with practical ways to care for their own minds, bodies, and souls and will leave them feeling at peace and soothed so that they can face another challenging day. Our staff are dedicated and truly care about the students we work with, but that deep sense of caring and obligation can really wear them down. Chet has a way of opening people up and sharing peace and contentment. He is a genuine and unique soul. We are grateful for his work with us!”
Fery said that reminding people to show kindness not only to others but to themselves is extremely important. “If you don’t do that you run the risk of other people caring for you less,” he remarked.
An occasionally achy left wrist reminds Fery that making another 100,000 loaves of bread may not be in the books these next five years. As a certified life coach he is in the process of redefining himself as a “Kindness Coach.”
Many of those who have heard his Bread Time Stories presentations or who have received a loaf of his bread want to learn more ways to integrate kindness into their lives. Fery works with clients either online or in person in order to help them make positive changes. He is also working on his book aptly titled “Bread Time Stories and More.”
Fery is sure to continue to make an impact in the community whether it is through passing out free bread, speaking to students, or coaching individuals in the work of kindness. Jill Leicht-Zulkosky sums it up best:
“He is literally trying to make the world a better place, one loaf at a time. And it really does brighten people’s day.”