Carla Morales-Mendoza is all smiles and giggles as a lavishly and lovingly decorated cake is placed on a table in front of her as friends, family members and social workers sing “Happy Birthday” and cut her a slice of the pink and white dessert prepared for her sixth birthday.
As she bites through handmade frosting and fluffy white cake, adults ask her how it tastes. “Yummmmm!” is the sweet and simple reply.
Carla says that the cake – decorated with an image of ballet slippers, at her request – makes her feel “happy.”
The 6-year-old is in the foster care system with three younger siblings, who also shared in the cake that was baked and delivered to her birthday party at North Star Family Center earlier last month by Megan Mitsuoka, a volunteer with Cake4Kids. The group enlists volunteers who bake cakes for underprivileged children, with a focus on those in the foster care system and victims of homelessness and abuse, including human trafficking.
“You meet kids – age 12, 13, 14 – that say, ‘I’ve never had a birthday party. I’ve never had a birthday cake,’ ” says Adrian Jones, Carla’s social worker at North Star.
The intricate cakes are personalized for each child, featuring decorations such as butterflies, guitars, Pokémon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Cake4Kids recently expanded into the Fresno area. Since late February, 17 cakes have been delivered to children in Fresno at North Star and Transitions Children’s Services, both foster care agencies, and the Marjaree Mason Center, a shelter that cares for victims of domestic abuse and homelessness.
Cake4Kids is eager to grow its team of volunteers in the Fresno area – 13 people, so far. Mitsuoka was the first. The accountant-by-day was eager to put her passion for baking to better use and help children in need. She reached out to Cake4Kids and was instrumental in bringing the group to the area.
She wants the children receiving her cakes to know that “there’s people out there that care about them.”
“That’s the big thing, really,” Mitsuoka says of Cake4Kids. “To let these kids know that they’re special.”
That’s also what motivates Julie Eades, executive director of Cake4Kids.
“We want every child to feel celebrated, at least this one day of the year, and remember they are special, whatever the circumstance they find themselves in,” Eades says.
The generosity of volunteer bakers is also touching the hearts of adults.
“There is love in this world,” says Mary Dela Torre, CEO of North Star Family Center. “There is a lot of hope, because people come together and help kids that really, really need it.”
Cake4Kids was started in the Bay Area in 2010 by a woman named Libby Gruender who was inspired by an article she read about a foster child receiving a birthday cake for the first time. Since then, hundreds of volunteers have baked more than 7,800 cakes for children at 94 organizations in eight California counties.
Jones hopes Cake4Kids inspires people to do even more to help children in need.
“It’s a wonderful concept. I’d like to see it catch on in other industries – we could do shoes for kids and coats for kids and everything else,” Jones says. “If every industry decides to help foster children, that would be fantastic.”
Eades is excited that Cake4Kids is helping children in Fresno.
“These birthday cakes may seem like a simple gift,” Eades says, “but for a child who has to keep moving from home to home with nothing but a plastic bag to haul his or her belongings around in, or a child in a shelter with their mom who is trying to get over domestic violence, it’s a symbol of hope and trust.”
How to help
Cake 4 Kids is looking for volunteer bakers in the Fresno area. More information about how to volunteer is available online at cake4kids.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers are not required to bake a certain number of cakes and are only required to go through a short orientation training to get started. Volunteers pay for baking ingredients and must deliver the cakes.