Baked Goods / Causes / East Passyunk

Essen Bakery Launches “Babkas for Blankets for Women in Africa” in March

Essen Bakery owner Tova du Plessis, who hails from South Africa, is launching a campaign to help women in her homeland who are dealing with the harsh realities of poverty, food insecurity, and rape. The initiative is called Babkas for Blankets (for Women in South Africa), and it launches on Wednesday, March 1 in commemoration of Women’s History Month.

The plan originated years back after Tova’s mom introduced her to a man who was pouring all his energy into running soup kitchens in South Africa. Fast forward to today, and that same man has expanded his organization, now running a sewing academy to employ women to sew blankets for people in need in the community. They also sew reusable sanitary pads for young girls in school, as rape rates are very high and young girls who can’t afford sanitary pads are at higher risk when they stay home. The program is called Fingertips of Africa.

For several years, Fingertips of Africa has been working closely with communities in South Africa by providing food security and distribution. In 2020, the non-profit initiated the Sewing Academy, the purpose of which is to empower and support vulnerable community members to develop a skill and be able to earn an income. The money earned helps these women pay for food, medical care, and other basic human needs. Many of the women are in extremely vulnerable situations, either having no high school diploma, being single parents, or are victims of rape and other forms of abuse. In the last year, the Sewing Academy has produced and provided 5,000 blankets, 1,000 reusable sanitary pads (donated to girls in schools around the country), and 500 towels. Learn more at

“I wanted to help people in South Africa after COVID hit. It was already a country with high poverty rates and a very high unemployment rate before being hit with the lockdowns, which brought massive food insecurity to the country,” said Tova. “I feel lucky that I can help my homeland with U.S. dollars, as their currency is very weak and the dollar goes very far. I really hope this initiative helps bring funds and security to women in South Africa who need it now more than ever. Life is so tough for women in South Africa, and I want to help any way I can.”

The campaign will ask for a donation of $36, and in return, each donor will receive a limited edition babka (brown butter pecan flavored), along with a blanket that the women of Fingertips of Africa have sewn. Since the focus is to provide blankets to communities in need, Tova is also partnering with a local organization to provide an option for Essen to donate blankets on each donor’s behalf for someone in need.

“Of course, we would love for donors to enjoy their cozy new blanket, but we also want to offer the option to give back. The main goal of this initiative is to bring security and help improve the lives of women living in an impoverished country, so it is important to know that all the proceeds, not just a portion, will be provided to Fingertips.”

Donations can be made by visiting

Open Wednesdays through Sundays, Essen Bakery is located at 1437 E. Passyunk Ave. in Philadelphia. A second location will open in Norris Square (between Fishtown and Kensington) later this spring. The James Beard Foundation named du Plessis a semifinalist for Outstanding Baker in America every year from 2017-2020.

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