Ministry Spotlight: Rita Ballenger, Abolition Bakery

Welcome to Real Life! Join my conversation with… 

Rita Ballenger, Founder
Abolition Bakery

Mission: To raise awareness of human trafficking and to raise funds for organizations that serve human trafficking survivors.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
For the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
And to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”
Isaiah 61:1 NLT

I was shocked. I fully expected to hear about human trafficking in third world countries. Instead, I learned about human trafficking in our states, our city, and in every city!  Rita thought when she attended a human trafficking presentation by the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking.

Rita, how did Abolition Bakery happen?

After hearing the HT presentation, I immediately took their speaker training to promote HT awareness. At the time, I was enrolled in the Culinary Baking Track at Cuyahoga Community College. (I had recently retired as an instructor there.) I wanted to use my baking skills to fight human trafficking. But I didn’t know how.

Then, I was sitting in the parking lot of a strip mall nearby. I noticed a new store opening called The Food Peddler. “Maybe they’ll sell my bread,” I thought. I had been making sour dough bread for decades. I gave the owners a loaf. They loved it! And began carrying it. That launched Abolition Bakery. I needed a label for my bread. My friend Claire, a graphic artist, helped me design the AB logo and bread label.

Tell us about the name “Abolition Bakery.” 

I wanted something unusual to spark investigation. What in the world does abolition have to do with bakery? The same with our eye-catching logo. Why chained hands and wheat?

How has your baking ministry grown since you began in 2013? 

My bread was selling well at the Food Peddler. “Let’s do a Farmer’s Market?” my same friend Claire asked a few months later. I baked bread. She baked biscotti (still a big seller for AB). Another friend baked scones. It was June 2013.

That Christmas, Claire needed teacher gifts. We created Abolition Bakery holiday gift baskets with her biscotti and a special blend of AB coffee. The baskets continue to be a major fundraiser for AB. Every year, we design a new basket. We include a human trafficking information card in every basket.

Unfortunately, the Food Peddler closed. But people liked the bread, and began calling me to order it. So began my call-to-order bakery.

When did you begin baking?

Jane’s Sour Dough Bread is named after a woman at my church. About thirty years ago, she gave me the sour dough bread starter. Jane’s eighty-nine now. She’d been making it for years before she gave it to me. So, it’s an old, old starter. For years, I baked Jane’s bread for people at work. I was a surgical technologist, then I taught those skills at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri C) before retiring. But baking has always been an extension of who I am.

How did you begin specializing in cupcake bouquets? 

I love flowers. I pondered how to combine them with bakery. I came up with the idea of cupcake bouquets. Then, I looked online and discovered others were already making them. I followed their instructions, but the bouquets fell apart. Finally, after two years of research, I found the right density cupcake, frosting, and design to make them stable. I actually gave up for a year. I thought it couldn’t be done. Then, I kept experimenting until I got it right. 

Tell us about your staff at Abolition Bakery?

I make small orders myself. For large orders, I call in volunteers. It’s like an old-fashioned quilting bee. Ladies gather around a common project and have fun doing it. It’s usually a two-hour window. The women love it! Abolition Bakery is completely run by volunteers, including myself.

You don’t receive a paycheck from AB, Rita?

No, I never have. All profits are donated to human trafficking ministries. Even my initial investment in the business was a love offering. I would never ask others to volunteer if I was personally profiting from the bakery. I feel blessed to be able to live on my retirement income; AB is my way of giving back. We’ve donated over $10,000 since Abolition Bakery started.

If you’d like to join Rita’s on-call volunteer team, contact her through the website.

Abolition Bakery has helped ministries around the world and around the corner. Learn more about each one through links on AB’s website.
  • Collaborative to End Human Trafficking
  • Cleveland Rape Crisis Center
  • Unchained Love
  • Church of the Holy Angels
  • Remember Nhu
  • Keith and Amy Melugin
  • Rahab
  • Catholic Charities
  • Shared Hope International
What is your vision for Abolition Bakery?

My next small vision is to begin hosting Cupcake Night awareness presentations. My heart is burdened for young girls who don’t realize they’re potential victims. I have already given presentations in schools. This cupcake night would be in my home. It would be for girls preferably with their moms. We’d watch a video geared to their age and then dissect the movie, discussing risk factors and red flags. Then, we’ll end on a fun, light note by decorating cupcakes.

I keep the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force number in my phone (216-443-6085). If I see something odd, I call them. HT is a crime that happens in plain sight. We can walk by and never realize something underhanded is taking place.

Learn more about Human Trafficking: Collaborative to End Human Trafficking

Place an order with Abolition Bakery through the website.

This summer, Abolition Bakery is selling at the Old Brooklyn Farmer’s Market, Saturdays through September 14, 2019, 9am–1pm, 4200 Pearl Road in Cleveland.

Like AB and learn the latest news on the Abolition Bakery Facebook page.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for Rita and Abolition Bakery.
Please provide clear direction
So she can fulfill your vision for the bakery.
Expand awareness prevention through AB.
Set captives free! Protect women and prevent them from being enslaved.
We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Author’s note: I’ve been friends with Rita (Laux) Ballenger since we were teenagers in the 1970’s. We had both recently come to know Jesus Christ as our Savior. Rita and her sister Therese hosted a Friday night Christian youth fellowship in their parents’ basement near the Shoppes at Parma (formerly Parmatown). Rita raised her children as a single mom and lives in a modest home in Old Brooklyn. She has attended Scranton Road Bible Church in Cleveland for over thirty years. Read more about Rita in “A Story of Grace: Forgiving the Other Woman.”


  1. Rita's cupcake bouquets are beautiful. We have used them as gifts at work. I met Rita at a Bible study. May God continue to bless the ministry. Thank you.

    1. That's awesome, Michelle! I didn't know. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Thank you for sharing about this. What a wonderful ministry!

    1. Hi, Melissa! Isn't this a unique ministry? Definitely God inspired! :)


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