Ten years ago, Chet Fery began trying to make "the perfect pizza," which he said should taste like the pies he'd enjoyed eating at his favorite Buffalo pizzeria as a child. Fery pursued this goal with a vengeance, but his family didn't exactly share his single-minded determination.
"After making pizza every night for a few weeks, my kids decided that it was too much pizza. I was encouraged to switch to bread," he recalled with a laugh.
Baking bread soon became more than just a hobby for Brockport resident Fery, who's now affectionately referred to by many as "the bread man." Through his Bread Time Stories and More project, he's baked and given away about 16,000 loaves of bread, many of them to people he'd never met before. He's also come to believe the simple act of giving a loaf of bread and a smile to a stranger has the power to change both people's lives for the better.
Fery recently shared these beliefs -- and several dozen loaves of bread -- with parishioners from the clustered parishes of St. John the Evangelist in Clyde, St. Patrick in Savannah and St. Michael in Lyons. He was the featured speaker for the Nov. 14 installment of the parishes' Adult Education Speaker Series, and he spoke to the parishes' adults while the children attended their faith-formation classes.
A retired educator, Fery spoke to the parents about their roles in their children's faith formation, and thanked them for taking the time to be so involved. He also spoke about random acts of kindness, and the positive ripple effect such acts can have.
"He's a very uplifting man," noted June Sherman, catechetical leader and youth minister at St. John and St. Patrick and faith-formation director at St. Michael.
When Fery first began making bread, he typically baked between 12 and 20 loaves each weekend. Each Monday morning Fery -- then an administrator in the Gates-Chili Central School District -- brought about a dozen loaves to work and offered them to his coworkers at no charge.
"I found that people would come to work early because they wanted to receive a loaf of bread," said Fery, noting his colleagues began arriving at work earlier and earlier as the crowd of people seeking bread grew larger.
"I was intrigued by that, and I wondered if it was because of the bread or if it was because of the act of kindness," he said.
Fery's bread-baking project continued to grow, especially after he retired from Gates-Chili in 2006. He now maintains a website, http://breadtimestoriesandmore.com, and he is planning to write a book. He regularly brings bread to the Rochester Public Market and to the students at SUNY Brockport's Newman Community, where Fery and his wife are parishioners. Fery brings 40 loaves of bread for the students each month, and during exam week he supplies 120 loaves of bread for the community's soup suppers for students.
It was a student from the Newman Community, in fact, who first dubbed Fery "the bread man."
"I was walking in with a tray of 12 loaves, and one of the college kids was eating a loaf and he said, 'There's the bread man,'" Fery reminisced. "Watching him eat the bread and hearing him recognize me as the bread man was really a significant moment for me."
Fery, who now bakes between 60 and 80 loaves during an average week, also gives loaves of bread to strangers he meets in Spencerport, Caledonia and everywhere in between.
"One of the things I'll do is I'll load up a bag of bread and I'll head either east, west or south. I have a number of routes that I take, and I just give bread away," Fery said. "It's an afternoon full of good will and sharing bread. I'll give bread away to strangers, but the minute you receive a loaf of bread, it never fails to bring a smile in return, and you become friends. It's a special moment."
The act of giving away the bread is as much a gift for Fery as it is for those who receive the loaves, he added. Not only does he enjoy the happiness his gift brings to others, but he also enjoys the stories bread recipients often feel compelled to tell him. They'll recount stories of their own family members who used to make bread, or they'll tell him who they plan to share the bread with.
"It does have kind of a ripple effect," he said.
Fery, who has a full calendar of speaking engagements and bread distributions, said he always begins his presentations by thanking the audience, whether it's Catholic parents or members of an organization's board of directors.
"There are a lot of people out there doing a lot of hard and good and wonderful things. I'm just here to thank them with a loaf of bread," he said.