A Sweet start: Volunteer bakers make sure no child has cake-less birthday

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 9/27/20

Calling all culinary artisans: Unthinkably, it seems there are kids whose birthdays are bereft of cake.

Quickly, to the kitchen!

Yes, even more unthinkable than Paul Hollywood tolerating …

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A Sweet start: Volunteer bakers make sure no child has cake-less birthday

Posted

Calling all culinary artisans: Unthinkably, it seems there are kids whose birthdays are bereft of cake.

Quickly, to the kitchen!

Yes, even more unthinkable than Paul Hollywood tolerating soggy-bottomed pastries on “The Great British Bake Off” is the thought of a child who has never known a birthday cake. And it was just such a sad story that inspired Cynthia Castro Sweet to sign on as a volunteer baker for the nonprofit Cake4Kids, which provides at-risk and underprivileged kids with customized and personalized sweet treats on their big day.

“Most people, if they think back to their childhood and they think about their birthdays, you probably remember some of your birthday cakes,” Sweet said.

“Maybe you don’t remember who was at your party or what games you played, but the cake tends to have symbolism for people,” she said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do, give these children a really happy memory during a time when that may be harder to come by.”

Sweet first started baking for  Cake4Kids while living in California. After relocating to Chimacum, Sweet, the aptly named charitable culinarian, founded the organization’s first Washington branch right here in Jefferson County and is now seeking volunteer bakers willing and able to craft a good cake for a great cause. 

Cake4Kids boasts hundreds of volunteers who belong to various chapters across the country. They bake about 3,000 cakes every year.

Jefferson County’s chapter will serve Quilcene to Port Townsend. Bakers must be 18 years or older, Sweet said, have reasonable baking and decorating skills and personal transportation so they can deliver cakes.

There is no minimum commitment, she explained. Volunteers bake what they can, when they can. Some bake once a month, others just once or twice a year.

“We do get messages back saying the child loved it or the family really enjoyed it; they had a great party and thank you so much,” Sweet said. “It alleviates a burden on the families, too. Especially in times like these, people are a little more strained economically and it helps to take some of the pressure off.”

Sweet said Cake4Kids works agency-to-agency, with requests for cakes coming via social service organizations or government agencies.

“If they are interested in participating they basically have a representative who gets access to an online portal so they can put in their request,” she explained. “The bakers go in and they look through all the different requests that are open and pick one that they’re able to fulfill.

“We try to keep it a simple, streamlined process and not overburden it with too much bureaucracy because it’s supposed to be a simple but powerful gesture.”

Currently, the new branch is seeking volunteers and plans to begin accepting requests soon.

“We’re doing all of our training of our [initial] volunteers this month and then we’re going to launch in early October for our first requests,” Sweet said.

“There is quite a range [of skills] and we just ask the bakers have a basic confidence in their baking ability and their decorating ability — they’re not required to operate at a professional level by any stretch of the imagination.”

Sweet recalls her own proudest culinary accomplishment: a three-tiered construction based on the Disney movie “Moana,” complete with characters and icing waterfall.

“For a lot of people, cooking and baking is therapeutic,” Sweet said. “It gives us something to do, for sure. It’s also a way of people stretching their abilities, taking on new challenges and kind of pushing themselves to learn new things.”

COVID-19 has, of course, complicated things a bit. But Sweet said Cake4Kids already operated with minimal personal interaction, so the adjustments — contactless delivery, specific drop-off locations, etc. — were relatively simple.

“The nice thing about birthday cakes and most baked goods is they’re pretty safe in terms of their stability. And we do have regulations around the kinds of ingredients people can put in their cakes so they do stay what we call ‘shelf-stable’ and they’re not prone to spoilage,” she said.

Also, the requester can specify any allergies or preferences regarding the inclusion of gluten, dairy, and other ingredients.

More information and volunteer registration is available online at www.cake4kids.org. Sweet is also available to answer questions (cynthia@cake4kids.org or 206-580-3766).

Sweet said she’s excited to bring the program which has brought her so much joy to her new home.

The importance of such things as birthday cakes, she said, while seemingly trivial, can greatly enrich lives.

“The thing that hooked me when I was a volunteer and I went to my orientation session, they read a thank-you letter from a recipient of a cake and it was a teenager. I think they were 18 at the time, and it was the first year they’d ever had a birthday cake,” Sweet recalled. 

“And I’m thinking, ‘Wow, if I never got a cake before I was 18’ — I have no concept of what that’s like! And it made such an impression on this 18-year-old. So when you think about that and think about what you’re used to, your own expectations around birthdays — you get a sense of how different it can be for other people.

“That really hits home,” she said.

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