One day in December, Jade Thoemke, a middle school teacher, got a call from the Sheridan Junior High School secretary to come downstairs to the office. The reason? There was a loaf of bread waiting for her.
"It was such a surprise to me," Thoemke said, "because, I mean, how often you're like, 'Oh, there's bread downstairs.' And it was so lovely. I went down there, and it was this gorgeous piece of bread. And there was a little note on it that said, 'To Jade, in honor of Kirby,' and there was no 'from,' which was peculiar."
There was just a mysterious tag that had an Instagram handle, The Loaf Project. Later, Thoemke sent a message to the account asking them to explain more. Thoemke's dog, Kirby had died, and someone in her life anonymously nominated her to receive a loaf of bread.
"The more that I looked into this, I realized, like, what an incredible thing- that somebody is taking the time out of their day to bake loaves of bread, just to make someone else's day and to make them feel like they are loved and cared about," she said.
The founder of the Loaf Project is anonymous and wants it to stay that way. They said it all started back in November. It had been a very hard day.
"I'm sitting there pretty emotional, and I get a knock on my door. And I opened the door, and it's this individual whom I know and I haven't thought of for a very long time," The Loaf Project said. "And they say, 'Hey! Here, I thought of you and made this for you.'"
The person left them with a container of chili, some toppings and a loaf of bread.
"I stepped back and just was so overwhelmed with appreciation and gratitude. Like I haven't seen or talked to you in so long, but you thought of me and you have no idea how I'm feeling in my house right now," they said.
And that surprise loaf of bread deeply touched them. The Loaf Project had been looking for something to do and it all just fell into place.
"I needed that project that would get me out of bed-beyond work. If you are doing work that you feel like is really like making an impact, then I think it's fulfilling in a different way. But I needed something that was beyond just my daily work," they said.
They wanted to replicate that feeling over and over. So they set up a system where people can send in messages asking for this mysterious Loaf Project to bake and deliver a surprise loaf of bread for free.
They set a hard goal: 50 loaves of bread in December to be delivered to strangers throughout the Sheridan community who are all going through something.
But they didn't want their identity to be involved.
"I didn't want it to be about me," The Loaf Project said. "I didn't want it to be about who was even giving the loaf, even if you nominated someone. It was always about a feeling because of the feeling that I had when I received that loaf."
People have received loaves who have lost family to COVID-19, found out they were pregnant, had a baby, grieving all sorts of things and people. Locals have even nominated people who are new to town. Kellie Kekich lives in Sheridan and wanted to make her new coworker feel welcomed.
"Stella is one of my AmeriCorps coworkers who moved here all the way from New York to Wyoming. And she's living in a house full of people. And everybody is celebrating Christmas, while she has no one else to celebrate Hanukkah with," Kekich said.
Kekich asked the Loaf Project if they could make challah, a bread eaten on major Jewish holidays. Stella Solasz, who received the bread, said it was a welcome surprise.
"It was really weird because I didn't even know Kellie," she said. "It was a week maybe into the program I got here on Dec. 4, and Hanukkah was on the 10th, and I probably hung out with Kellie once or twice by then. So it was just like the niceness of local people have shared in and it just made me really happy and felt really welcome coming here from New York."
Every time someone nominates a person, The Loaf Project asks why.