Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Bring neighbors and communities together through cookies


Neighbors Cookies received $3.5 million in tax credits from US Bancorp Community Development Corporation to help owner Meryl Kennedy-Farr purchase the equipment she needed to expand production.

During the holiday season, many families gather around plates of their favorite treats, baked cookies. Many children learn to cut cookies from hand-rolled dough and decorate them with festive themes by watching and helping their parents... a tradition that is passed down to the next generation.

Meryl Kennedy-favorite Farr's cookie is oatmeal chocolate chip, a treat her mother began to enjoy while pregnant with her. "Perhaps there's something to that," she smiled. And, through her company, Neighbors Cookies, based in West Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, Kennedy-Farr has been bringing cookie dough to many families all year long, especially during the holiday season.

“The act of making cookies is an act of love – we give cookies to those who we love, someone who’s sick and needs support, or someone you want to say thank you to,” says Kennedy-Farr, who’s 34 years old.

In 2016, Kennedy-Farr saw an opportunity and had the resources to save a failing community business — a cookie company that had been a fixture in the community for nearly two decades. With years of food industry experience, she was well-versed in the manufacturing and packaging of a food product. She was the youngest of four daughters, born and raised on her family's rice farm in Mer Rouge, 30 miles from West Monroe, which her father, Elton Kennedy, founded in the 1960s. She became her father's assistant at the age of 21 and, a decade later, president of the family's agriculture business.

When the West Monroe cookie dough factory was on the verge of closing in 2016, Meryl purchased it and renamed it Neighbors, LLC. Her grandfather, the town minister, used to refer to the town's residents and parishioners as "neighbors," "because neighbors are an integral part of communities."

Neighbors was primarily a fundraising company at the time of the acquisition. Today, it has expanded into an online private label, co-manufacturing, and brand licencing for large CPG brands and grocery stores nationwide. One-third of its revenue is still generated by the production of cookie dough for fundraising channels used by sports teams, schools, and church groups.

Kennedy-Farr recognized the need to automate one of their production lines in 2021 in order to increase production volume. The community investment and tax credit subsidiary of US Bank, US Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC), partnered with Advantage Capital to provide Neighbors with a $3,500,000 New Markets Tax Credits investment to help her purchase the equipment she required.

Since then, the financing has enabled Neighbors to increase its output by 20%, allowing it to add 15 quality jobs and an additional eight-hour shift to its operations.

“With these exciting improvements, we have brought even more jobs to our community and with these continued investments in our employees, business and community, we expect even more growth as we enter 2023,” she explained.

West Monroe has 13,000 residents, 35% of whom are white, 35% are black, and nearly 6% are Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The company currently employs at least 150 people, with people of color accounting for more than half of the workforce. Neighbor's offers quality jobs with an average hourly wage of $20.23 and benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.

“U.S. Bank believes everyone deserves to live in a thriving community with access to opportunity and the ability to achieve financial stability,” said Tracey G. Lowell, business development officer at USBCDC. “Helping Neighbors grow and create jobs is changing the lives of the individuals who work here, and helps the entire community thrive.”

Furthermore, Neighbor's provides employee training, and more than 80% of the company's positions are open to those with a high school diploma. Many of the employees are former incarcerated women and people who live in the area's shelters.

“We believe in Meryl’s vision for the company, which is not only about the product they produce, but also how they support the local community,” said Justin Obletz, managing director and CFO at Advantage Capital. “Neighbors is having a great impact in a distressed community that needs access to quality jobs.”

Neighbors has received several awards including the Thomas H. Scott Large Business of the Year award from the Ouachita Chamber of Commerce for its contributions to the Ouachita Parish economy.

“I am very proud of the economic impact we have had as a company in a very underprivileged area of the country, added Kennedy-Farr. “Our mission is to make sure that everyone in our company regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion has a work home where they feel safe to contribute and thrive.”

This holiday season, as in previous years, families will scoop out dozens of little balls of dough to make the perfect cookie to share with loved ones.

"The holiday season should be about sharing neighborly love,” said Kennedy-Farr. “We can go a long way with small acts of kindness by sharing cookies and caring for one another.”