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November 26, 2019

Small business, big heart: How the Lancaster Stroopies Company is giving refugees a fresh start

“In order to make a great social enterprise work, you have to have a great product to make and stroopies are a cinnamon waffle with a homemade caramel in the center designed to rewarm on your hot tea or coffee,” explains Jennie Groff, co-owner of The Lancaster Stroopies Company.

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Located in the Sweet Shoppe on North Duke Street in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you’ll want to go in the store even before you know the Stroopies origin story – or for that matter, even before you know what a stroopie is. The large bright window and sandwich board on the curb invites those passing by to peek in and gaze at the assortment of pastries and candies. But truth be told, it’s the smell that brings you in. From a block away, an aroma of baked goods, both sweet and slightly cinnamon draws you to the window.

It’s the smell of homemade stroopies.

The Lancaster Stroopies Company started in 2008 with the vision to make a great product and to provide meaningful employment to resettled refugee women. As a certified B Corp company, Stroopies is recognized for its mission to balance profit and purpose. The company reinvests its profits into its refugee employees and is dedicated to cultivating a supportive work environment.

Refugees must overcome numerous challenges and obstacles when they resettle to a new country. The initial language barrier is one that is universally experienced within the resettled community. However, navigating some of the cultural changes refugees encounter in the U.S. tends to vary depending on gender and ethnic background. Jennie was acutely aware of this.

“One of the things that I saw, specifically for the women, was that it was difficult for them to get out of the house. It was harder for them to learn the language,” Jennie noted. 

“We really pride ourselves that when women come to [work at] Stroopies, they don't need to know any English. We offer an English class right here at work as part of the day,” she continued.

Jennie also knows firsthand the pressures of being a new mom and the additional resources that growing a family requires.

“I know also from being a young mom myself that sometimes it's hard. Kids get sick and kids have appointments. You need flexible schedules and to feel like your job is still going to be there. I was really motivated to see how we could incorporate those things into making a warm, welcoming environment at Stroopies.” 

Mary Stroopies

Mary and her family arrived to Lancaster from Myanmar in 2013. She was a new mother and didn’t speak English, but needed a job to help support her family. She was a hard worker, but she also needed the support of an employer who understood her unique circumstance.

Mary started out on the assembly team and is now a manager for new hires. With her promotion, she’s also growing more confident in her language skills. 

Although the city is traditionally associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch Country and its large Amish community, since 2013 Lancaster has resettled 20 times more refugees per capita than the rest of the U.S. Welcoming more than 1,300 people from places like Myanmar, Somalia, Ethiopia and Syria, the city has proudly been renamed “America’s Refugee Capital.”

“The Lancaster community has been an incredible supporter of resettled refugee families and our biggest cheerleaders as we've launched Stroopies,” Jennie proudly shares.

“It really takes a village to make a welcoming place and a welcoming atmosphere for families to feel like they're safe and they're wanted and they belong. I'm just forever grateful for our community, and for the ways they have come alongside our idea.”                    

How can you help...

USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency supports the full journey of refugees like Mary. Not only do our donors help refugees in their greatest time of need, but their support builds awareness for resettled refugees living in the U.S. Refugees like Mary have woven themselves into the fabric of American society and are making lasting contributions to their communities. With your help, more refugees will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and give their family a bright future.