Memories of past birthdays might invoke roller skating parties, trips to the movies or visiting a big game with friends, but the center of every memory is often the same: a delicious birthday cake topped with candles, baked by someone who cared.
For Goodness Cakes, a nonprofit with a new metro Detroit chapter, is in the business of providing those meaningful, special birthday or graduation cakes for at-promise youth by linking volunteers to bake and deliver the cakes to agencies.
“The kids get to choose something all for themselves — the cake flavor, the frosting, the theme,” says Jaime Luczak, the founder and co-chapter leader of the metro Detroit branch. “It’s having someone say ‘I see you, I see what you want, and you matter.’”
Luczak, who runs the chapter with co-leader Dana Gannon, says the response since the chapter started in August 2022 has been great. There now are roughly 115 active volunteers and 10 partner agencies.
The stories she hears about the way the kids respond to the cakes makes it worth the effort, she says.
“I was told that one little girl carried it around with her the whole day and said, ‘Look at my cake, look! It’s mine!’” she says. “Another little boy sat amazed with it in the backseat of the car, eating with his hands.”
A special cake is more than just a sweet treat for many kids. Gifting a cake is another way to support children’s agency because they get to make their own choices, Luczak adds. They can choose to share or not, to eat it right away or save it; it’s all up to them. Plus, it helps lighten the load for foster families.
Luczak, a social worker, lives in Plymouth and is the mom of three young boys. Years ago, an out-of-state friend posted on social media tagging the nonprofit. It caught her eye, but there was no local chapter.
“One thing led to another and I was like, well, what if I actually started this?” she says. She founded the metro Detroit chapter in August 2022 and by September, they were delivering cakes.
Luczak wants potential volunteers to know that they don’t need to be located in Detroit to participate and that stellar baking skills are absolutely not a requirement.
“What matters is that you can tell it was baked with love,” she says.
Recently, a power outage from a winter storm left a volunteer unable to finish baking the cake she had in the oven. The agency said it was alright, they would tell the little girl what had happened and reschedule her birthday cake but Luczak and Gannon said no.
Instead, Gannon rushed to bake a cake and Luczak raced to the store for decorations.
“I said no, this girl needs her purple Squishmallows cake, and nothing is going to get in the way of letting someone know that they matter,” she says. “I know my parents would have done that for me, and I need her to know that someone would do it for her.”
Another time, Luczak got a call from a foster care worker telling her that a child had just arrived but his 13th birthday had been a few days prior. Would they be able to make him a cake on short notice?
“I’ve learned to just say ‘yes’ to requests because our volunteers are incredible,” she says, but something about this request made her want to tackle it herself. She decorated the Dragon Ball Z cake and topped it with themed action figures.
“Can you imagine? You’re turning 13, a special birthday, and you’re in foster care for the first time,” she says. “Even if it’s something small, if it even brings one moment of happiness, that’s what matters.”
Luczak’s main hope for the Detroit chapter of For Goodness Cakes is for kids who received the cakes to look back and remember a time when a stranger knew how important they were.
“Do I think a birthday cake solves everything? No. But healing has to start somewhere,” she says. “No act of love is ever too small.”
Those interested in volunteering must be at least 18 years old and complete a mandatory online orientation before baking. Sign up through the website.
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