Local nonprofit spreads love, joy and frosting.
Can a cake make a difference? Can a concoction of batter meets frosting cure what ails? At times, the answer is “yes.” The Hope House in Excelsior is a short-term emergency shelter for youth ages 14–19. It’s a port in the storm for youth, who are either at risk to be or are homeless, and it has partnered with For Goodness Cakes, which originated in California and unites nationwide chapters of volunteer bakers, who bake and deliver birthday cakes to foster children and at-risk youth.
“We have received four or five cakes from For Goodness cake since collaborating with them,” says Chantra-Lee Jackson, youth advocate. “The residents here absolutely love when we order them a cake for their birthday. They enjoy the whole process of picking out the flavor and style of the cake they want. I think For Goodness Cakes is a very valuable organization. It brings joy to children’s birthdays when there isn’t much otherwise.”
Allison Sundquist of Edina discovered For Goodness Cakes in late 2019 while researching ways to combine her passions for baking and volunteering. Its mission so excited Sundquist that she couldn’t help but share what she’d learned with Edina’s Kim Sabow, who had recently launched her youngest child off to university and considered the timing perfect to partner with Sundquist and start a Twin Cities chapter of For Goodness Cakes.
Within four weeks, the duo was on an airplane bound for a For Goodness Cakes chapter summit. They’d been undeterred by an early rebuff from the organization. “We were told they’d already brought in enough agencies,” Sabow says. “But I called the person in charge and said, ‘You want us on your team. You have no idea how good we’ll be.’” She was not wrong. An initial and immediate requirement was for the women to raise $4,000 in startup costs (licensing fees and funding for volunteer management software). “It’s amazing how people came through to help us raise the money in only eight weeks,” she says.
The organization partners with about 20 local agencies that work with underserved and underprivileged youth. Partner agencies often work with children in foster care, young adults aging out of foster care or are adoption agencies, homeless shelters or agencies that aid young victims of sex trafficking. The partner agencies request cakes, and Sundquist and Sabow match those requests with volunteer bakers, using the software system funded by their startup and ongoing donations.
Volunteer bakers, dubbed the Sprinkle Squad, come from all over the Metro, even a few in Wisconsin, and have varied baking backgrounds—from professional to home cooks. All are hungry to deliver joy to a child. (Volunteer bakers don’t typically get to meet the children they bake for; to ensure child safety, volunteers take their cakes to For Goodness Cakes’ partner agencies, which deliver the requested cakes to the children.)
For Goodness Cakes made its first cake delivery in October 2020. Volunteers, numbering about 150, have since delivered over 120 birthday or graduation cakes with many more deliveries planned as the word gets out and partner agencies resume more services.
For Goodness Cakes is adamant about food safety. Volunteer bakers must be at least 18 years old (unless partnered with a parent), participate in orientation training and pass a food safety course. The organization cannot honor allergen-free cake requests as there is no method of ensuring allergen-free kitchens. Also, throughout the pandemic, volunteer bakers have been required to remain masked throughout any cake baking and delivery.
“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback from agencies that are grateful for the collaboration,” Sundquist says. “One agency we work with is called Common Bond Communities. It was through them [For Goodness Cakes] delivered its first graduation cake for a girl, who got her GED. She cried because the cake was so beautiful and because her name was spelled correctly. It has a unique spelling, and many don’t get it right. It’s just so cool for kids, some who have never received a personalized cake to celebrate them. I tell our volunteers to never underestimate the value of what they’re doing. They’re not just delivering a cake. They’re delivering a message to a child that someone cares about them in their community.”
Sundquist and Sabow aim for continued growth of their Twin Cities chapter by welcoming more partner agencies and volunteers. The duo is especially hoping for a corporate sponsorship or collaboration opportunity. “Many of our volunteers use products from local companies like General Mills, Nordic Ware and Land O’ Lakes,” Sundquist says. “Any help in partnering with corporate sponsors, companies like these, on a local or national level would be wonderful. We are definitely open to those conversations.”
Ongoing financial donations are needed to fund For Goodness Cakes’ Twin Cities operations. “We often tell people, ‘If you can’t bake, donate,’” Sundquist says. Any interested volunteers or donors can learn more by visiting forgoodnesscakes.org/twincities-mn.
Anwen Eslinger moved to Mound during the pandemic, and she sought out ways to connect with the community. Volunteering was a first stop. “I also think volunteering is important, and I want my daughters to learn that, as well,” she says. “I want them to learn that doing good for strangers in your community doesn’t have to come with a thank you or anything—that doing good just for the sake of good is a kind and worthy act.”
Eslinger discovered For Goodness Cakes, and “… it checked a lot of boxes,” she says.
“I grew up in the South, and in the South, you don’t just cook—you cook for someone. I think sometimes we measure love and care in calories,” she says. “… growing up, my family [made] birthdays a big deal. But, I have many friends, who did not grow up with that, so when I would bring them cakes or cupcakes, they would be overwhelmed with even the simplest homemade treat. It made them feel special, and I think that is important for everyone.”
But her role as a foster parent might have been the main ingredient in her willingness to join the Sprinkle Squad. “Kids, who might be away from the people they know, need to feel like they are still valued,” Eslinger says.
Just as the recipients of the cakes receive more than batter and frosting, Eslinger also received something in return for her efforts. “I think I have gained confidence and joy from doing this,” she says. “I was very nervous to do it because I am not a good decorator. I’m a scientist, not a baker. However, these cakes are special, so I really try to do something with the request … Sometimes I fail, but in the end, I was pretty happy with how the cakes looked. It turns out the kids liked them, as well … You don’t have to be a professional to make someone happy. You just have to earnestly try your best.”
Volunteering with For Goodness Cakes is a family affair. “I like the fun of doing it with my kids,” Eslinger says. “They see what happens when things fail and how we come up with a new approach. My daughter took it upon herself to be in charge of decorating the cake boxes, so they look like an intentional gift, so I love that she was able to get involved. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Uletts of Minnetonka also found volunteering with the Sprinkle Squad to be a worthy family endeavor and joined during the pandemic. “My daughter Reese is the baker,” says Lisa Ulett. “She likes to bake and wanted to help those in need celebrate their birthday.”
The Uletts have created several cakes. “It makes [Reese] feel good to help people celebrate,” she says. “It is fun to create a cake that is exactly what the birthday girl/boy has asked for.” —Renée Stewart-Hester