Op-Ed: You can bake an impact


Photo credit: Audrey Chang

This image features a vanilla Disney-themed birthday cake I made for a 3-year-old girl during the summer of 2022. Volunteering for the organization For Goodness Cakes for over two years, now, has allowed me to see the immensely positive impact even small actions like baking a cake can have on a person’s life.

By Audrey Chang, Editor-in-Chief

Think of the best birthday you’ve ever had. It probably involved doing some of your favorite activities, spending time with people you care about and, of course, a birthday cake where you blew out the candles and made your birthday wish. 

I still remember my favorite cake I’ve gotten; it was for my 10th birthday, when I was completely obsessed with Clue (the board game and the movie), and my parents got me a cake with all of the Clue characters on it. 

However, something that I — and probably many other people — had not considered is that many children and young adults do not get the chance to celebrate their birthday or get their own birthday cake.

According to Children’s Law Center of California, on any given day, there are almost 437,000 children in foster care in the U.S. and more than 60,000 in California. Additionally, according to Covenant House, there are 700,000 or more adolescent minors from 13 to 17 years old who experience a form of homelessness in the course of one year in the U.S. — this is one in every 30 adolescent minors. 

While issues like homelessness and improving the quality of life for children in foster care are very complex, many individuals have looked to make a positive impact in these communities through less conventional ways, such as baking. For many of these kids, birthdays and special events are often overlooked, and baking can be a way of bringing them even small amounts of joy.

For example, one way many people across the country have gotten involved with this issue is through a nonprofit organization called For Goodness Cakes, which I started volunteering with in 2020. For Goodness Cakes utilizes a network of volunteers across the U.S. to bake and deliver personalized birthday treats to underprivileged children — like those who are in foster care, low-income households or experiencing homelessness who wouldn’t have birthday celebrations otherwise. 

Their mission is to give individual youth at least one special moment that is about them,” to help “nurture optimism and confidence at a critical age” and to make these kids feel celebrated and seen in a world that often seems to leave them behind. As of Jan. 17, they have 25 chapters across the U.S., 5,358 volunteers and 516 partner agencies, including Kidsave, Guardians of Love and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

An organization that shares For Goodness Cakes’ mission of spreading joy through baking is Cake4Kids, where volunteers bake and deliver custom homemade birthday cakes to at-risk and underserved youth across the U.S. Another similar organization is Icing Smiles, where volunteers provide personalized celebration cakes and other treats to families impacted by the critical illness of a child to create a positive memory during a difficult time.

Of course, baking a cake does not solve these difficult problems and situations, and there are many ways to make a positive impact on a child’s life — including ones with larger and more permanent impacts than baking. However, the power of a small act of kindness on someone’s life should not be underestimated.

I fully realized how much just one cake can make a difference when I received a thank you note from a girl who I had baked a personalized strawberry cake for. She said it was the only cake and birthday gift she’d ever received, and the cake made it her best birthday yet. While the note was heartbreaking, it inspired me to continue my service through baking, and it also made me realize how much good we can bring to the world through such a fun and simple activity.

To volunteer with organizations like these, you don’t have to be a master cake-decorator — you can be as simple or as creative as you want. All that matters is that the child or young adult is getting a treat that makes them feel special, seen and loved.

As Founder of For Goodness Cakes Jaime Lehman said, “I don’t think that problems are solved when they get a cake. I think that problems start to heal, and sometimes healing takes a really long time. But it has to start somewhere, and why not with a cake?”