PORT TOWNSEND — Last Sunday, Joan Coyne created a birthday cake — a tall, multicolored, exquisitely frosted layer cake — for a child she’s never met.
She kept this youngster’s age, gender, location and requested theme confidential. And Coyne, a teacher, would use her lunch hour one day last week to deliver the cake to the honoree.
“This gave me a chance to bake, which I love to do,” but wouldn’t do just for her small household, she said before wielding her piping bag.
Coyne is one of a kitchen army in East Jefferson County. These are the Cake4Kids volunteers: retired professional bakers and decorators and hobbyists. They bake for children, teenagers and young adults who live in homeless shelters or transitional housing or who are in the foster care system.
“It is mind-blowing what these volunteer bakers can do,” said Cynthia Castro Sweet, founder of the local Cake4Kids chapter. Hers is the first Washington state group to become part of the nationwide organization.
As elaborate as the cakes are, Sweet keeps the delivery process simple. Working with agencies including Dove House of Jefferson County and Bayside Housing Services as well as local schools, “it’s a two-conversation process,” she said.
A young person has a special day coming up: graduation, a birthday, anything deserving a celebration. This person also has a particular passion about something, which provides the theme for the cake.
The social services agency acts as the connector, providing the volunteer baker with that theme and the delivery date and address.
“Our goal is to lighten the burden,” said Sweet, adding Cake4Kids serves young people age 1 to 24 by way of their schools or social service providers.
And while she has about two dozen volunteer bakers — plenty for now — Sweet hopes to connect with more agencies.
Since the chapter’s launch in September, volunteers have constructed cakes with a universe of themes: “Alice in Wonderland,” TikTok social media, nature, unicorns, pandas and other animals. Bakers have scrutinized YouTube videos and called on their creative powers, Sweet said, to rise to each occasion.
“Another thing we do is we support agencies when they’re doing events for all of their families,” for holidays such as Halloween, she added.
Maggie Smith of Port Ludlow took on the TikTok-theme cake, though she was unfamiliar with the social networking platform and its speedy dance and comedy videos. She did copious research, found dozens of TikTok cake demonstrations online and baked two mock-ups to practice.
“My neighbors ate a lot of cake. It was really fun,” Smith said, adding it was also a bit stressful. A veteran of 30 years as a school nurse, she wanted to do something outside her comfort zone, and that TikTok adventure brought her up to speed culturally, she said. Smith wants to broaden her skill set further, so she’s added gluten free cake to her repertoire.
Greer Gates, development director at Bayside Housing Services, witnessed a Cake4Kids-fed celebration earlier this year. Bayside’s transitional housing complex in Port Hadlock has several youngsters in its care, and cakes make a major impact, she said.
“While I don’t know the exact volunteer who baked our first cake as a Cake4Kids partner, they knocked it out of the park,” Gates recalled.
“It is so, so important for these kids to feel the excitement and celebration of big days, despite being in some very tough situations. There is something very fundamental to a child’s development of being celebrated and feeling seen, and Cakes4Kids really acknowledges that.”
At Dove House, program manager Pat Jaap said the cake-baking team made the experience a carefree one.
“Many of our clients cannot afford to have birthday parties for their children. Between Cake4Kids and Dove House, we take that burden off Mom. She gets to celebrate,” Jaap said, adding client confidentiality is paramount throughout. “Cake4Kids respects and understands this,” she noted.
“I don’t want there to be a lot of bureaucracy,” Sweet added.
A cake, anonymously baked, frosted and delivered, is her kind of gift.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]