With a spatula in one hand and a knife in the other, Kate Jentges spreads vanilla frosting onto a chocolate birthday cake and adds green stars around the edges. “Does that look good?” asks Jentges, 15, as she adds the finishing touches in her Spokane Valley kitchen. A decorated bakery box and a package of candles sit on the dining room table nearby.
Jentges is baking a cake for a total stranger, and it’s not the first time. The Gonzaga Prep freshman is one of 60 volunteer bakers who make free birthday cakes for local kids who might otherwise go without.
Spokane resident Kelly Eggleston started the nonprofit Free Cakes for Kids in 2008 after reading an article about a woman in Georgia who was involved in the national organization.
It gave Eggleston a creative outlet for her cake-decorating hobby, and so far she and her volunteers have delivered more than 500 cakes.
Eggleston provides the bakers with cake mixes and powdered sugar for the frosting, but Jentges uses some of her babysitting money for the extras.
“That way I put a little bit into too,” says Jentges, who often accompanies her mom to deliver the cakes. “That’s one of my favorite parts — delivering the cake. The last one, the mom was pretty thrilled.”
Eggleston partners with local social-service organizations like Hearth Homes, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Children’s Village in Coeur d’Alene to identify clients, who range in age from 1 to 18. The Seattle chapter of Free Cakes for Kids also sends referrals. Some are kids whose moms are incarcerated on the West Coast and have children living with grandparents in the Spokane area.
Each client fills out a request form to indicate what flavor of cake they would like and any special theme desired, and then volunteer bakers bake and deliver the cakes. Eggleston enlists bakers of all skill levels who try their best to make something special for each child.
“The whole point is they are getting a cake to a child who wouldn’t have one otherwise,” Eggleston says. “It’s the joy that you know you are giving them. It fills you up and makes you think life is good.”
Some families just need a little extra help, Eggleston explains. One mom had to choose between putting gas in her car and buying a birthday cake for her child. Another family was stretched thin by a medical crisis.
“Being able to supply the cake provided a little relief,” says Eggleston. “Some people think a birthday cake is no big deal, but a lot of these children have no one.”
Eggleston relays a story about a 5-year-old boy whose mom wasn’t going to tell him that it was his birthday because she didn’t have the means to celebrate it.
It’s not just the little ones who benefit. Teenage boys put on a rough exterior, but Eggleston recounts a story of a cake she made for one teen boy. “He was so grateful. He understood it was for him, but it really helped his mom, who was a single parent. I was in tears.”
Cara Kowalski, coordinator for the SNAP Northeast Food Bank, has referred around 60 clients to Free Cakes since October.
“It’s been wonderful working with them,” she says. Many food bank clients don’t have the money to buy a cake mix, and some don’t even have an oven, Kowalski explains.
“Being able to have a party and celebrate your child’s birthday is important, even if it is not a necessity,” she says. The fact that the cakes are delivered is a huge help to families who rely on public transportation.
Kelli Hornbaker’s daughter, Hannah, just turned 14, and this is the third year the family has received a cake from Free Cakes for Kids.
“It’s been very huge. Little pieces like the cake delivery have made her feel special,” explains Kelli, who works full time, goes to school and travels a lot for her job. Hannah’s favorite — a purple zebra-print cake — was a big hit with her friends. Hannah feels grateful, because the cake was “one less thing for my mom to pay for and one less thing for her to do.”
“It sounds like such a simple thing,” says Eggleston, who has two daughters of her own. For many families, a birthday cake is a given, simply part of the decorations. But for the families Eggleston and her volunteers serve, it’s so much more.
“The child (who receives the cake) is so excited,” says Eggleston.
For some, the cake is the
birthday. “It’s the only thing that makes them feel special. I hope
they remember that — that someone cared about them and it helps them
have a better life.”
To learn more about Free Cakes for Kids go to www.freecakesforkidsspokane.com.