A chance encounter via Ebay started the wheels turning for Bake A Wish founder and president, Karen Nichols. In the summer of 2009, Karen’s sister bought a mixer via the online auction site from a volunteer with Free Cakes for Kids, a national non-profit founded in 2007 in Georgia which delivers birthday cakes to disadvantaged kids. “I’d never heard of them before, so I found their website to learn more. The thought of a child not having a birthday cake had never crossed my mind. Once it did, though, I was horrified at the thought. I thought it would be great to have a similar organization in Austin.” Karen dove right in and started an Austin chapter of Free Cakes for Kids. “I didn’t know the first thing about cake decorating!” Karen admits, “I did enjoy taking several classes, though, and eating lots of my mistakes.” Free Cakes for Kids Austin shortly became Bake A Wish, and expanded their mission to include not just kids, but the elderly and the disabled in affordable housing in the greater Austin area as well.
Now, three years later, Bake A Wish has made nearly 2,000 deliveries and boasts a team of over 100 volunteers. In February 2012, they received their 501(c)3 non-profit organization status. With funds raised through events like Cupcakes & Cocktails (hosted by the Austin Food Blogger Alliance), they plan to increase the scope of their mission further. Right now, Bake A Wish and its volunteers serve almost 30 different agencies here in Austin, including SafePlace, Life Works, and many children’s homes and foster care facilities. Bake A Wish hopes to reach out to organizations that serve veterans as well as the homeless.
“We are very fortunate to be 100% volunteer-staffed,” Karen notes, “given that, almost every single penny of the donations we receive can go directly to supporting our mission. Since our volunteers receive no compensation for their work, it’s great to be able to help them out by purchasing and distributing baking and decorating supplies to help offset their expenses.”
For the volunteers of Bake A Wish, it’s not just about delivering birthday cakes. It’s about delivering a sense of hope and a feeling of value to those in need, especially kids. Karen recounts an experience she had early on in her work with Bake A Wish, “With deliveries for the kids, it is extremely rare that we ever get to even see the birthday boy or girl due to the protective circumstances they are in. Most times, we just drop the cake off at the front desk and have to imagine the child’s face when they see their cake.” However, one delivery to Safe Place brought her face to face with one of the kids served by Bake A Wish. “It was a weekend so instead of going to the office, I was to proceed directly to the shelter building. Once I was buzzed into the secure lobby, I told the ladies at the front desk I had a delivery for the birthday girl. When I said the little girl’s name, I heard a shriek from the lobby. To my surprise, she and her mom were standing right behind me! I got down on my knees, opened the cake box, and watched her face as she looked inside. I got to give her and her mom a big hug, too. What an amazing experience! Every time I leave Safe Place I normally cry for sad reasons; this time I got to shed tears of joy.”
Madelyn Varella, volunteer and Director of Bake A Wish, recounts a similar heart-warming delivery experience. “I took the cake in, and the ladies at the desk were so excited to have it. Apparently the child had been having a really difficult time adjusting to his new situation, and had been crying and acting out all week. His cake was the only thing he was looking forward to, and when the ladies called to let him know it had arrived, I could hear his shriek through the phone. So amazing.”
As Karen shares, “Along with a cake, we hope to deliver the message that someone cares about them. For neglected, abused, and abandoned kids, that’s something a lot of them have never even had.”
Tickets for Cupcakes & Cocktails benefiting Bake A Wish are on sale now at http://afba.ticketbud.com/cupcakes-cocktails.
Michelle Fandrich, Philanthropy Chair