With the Mid-Autumn Festival around the corner and food manufacturers keen to cash in on the popular seasonal delicacy, sales of mooncakes have already picked up for the employees at the Children Are Us Bakery (喜憨兒烘焙坊) on Guangfu South Road. Complaints, however, are few and far between as workers concentrate on packaging handmade mooncakes.
Workers at the bakery are not children, but some have the developmental age of a child and are employed and assisted by the Children Are Us Foundation (喜憨兒社會福利基金會), a well-established social welfare group that provides job opportunities to people with cerebral palsy, Down's Syndrome, autism or other
Founded in 1995, the foundation has since opened 20 bakeries and restaurants in Taipei, Hsinchu and Kaohsiung offering training in workplace skills to disadvantaged citizens.
The bakery brings in some 50 percent of the foundation's annual income, with private donations and government assistance making up the rest.
The bakeries' mooncakes have become somewhat of a trademark for the foundation and enjoy widespread public attention.
The popularity of the mooncakes has encouraged other enterprises to assist the foundation's mission.
Each box of assorted mooncakes is adorned with a design by the locally renowned illustrator and artist Jimmy (幾米).
This year, post offices and FamilyMart convenience stores have agreed to offer an ordering service for the mooncakes.
The bakeries' staff strive to make healthy, low-calorie pastries using natural ingredients with traditional flavors including jujube and red bean paste.
New additions to the product range include chestnut, cappuccino, orange, cranberry and jasmine green tea.
"The bakeries are what we call `sheltered programs.' Workers with developmental problems receive assistance and care from professional social workers. We also have job coaches who search for employment opportunities for the project's participants," said Children Are Us Foundation CEO Wu Ting-fang (武庭芳).
"Generally, workers at the bakeries initially acquire basic skills to prepare them for the outside world. When they are ready to live independently we'll help them find jobs at supportive businesses such as 7-Eleven, Mos Burger or local restaurants," Wu said.
One of the main intentions of the program is to change public perceptions of the disabled.
"We want the public to see these people, to increase mutual contacts. And then the public will gradually realize that disadvantaged citizens are just like us. We are not satisfied with closed-door services. We want to help them become part of the community" Wu said.
As one of the few not-for-profit organizations (NPO) that applies effective management to social welfare causes, Children Are Us acts as a successful example for traditional foundations that mostly depend on government subsidies.
A lackluster economy over recent years has squeezed government funding and private donations forcing NPOs to find creative solutions to social problems and dwindling resources.
"At first, other social welfare providers viewed us as an organization that was very good at doing business," Wu said, "But we are not here to make a profit. The aim of the foundation is to provide sustainable services to the disadvantaged and help them become independent and live normal lives."
To support the Children Are Us Foundation mooncakes can be ordered at post offices and FamilyMart convenience stores. Alternatively visit the foundation's Web site at http://www.c-are-us.org.tw.