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Cake for a Cause: Free Birthday Cakes for Underserved Children in Silicon Valley Video

In This Episode:

Silicon Valley faces severe challenges with underserved children, highlighted by its overwhelmed foster care system where one child enters every two minutes. Homelessness is also a major issue, with over 1,500 youths aged 18-24 homeless in San Jose, the highest in any major city. Additionally, about 60,000 children live in poverty in Santa Clara County. These statistics highlight the critical need for targeted support and interventions for these vulnerable children.

Underserved Children Problem in Silicon Valley:

  • Foster Care: In Silicon Valley, one child enters the foster care system every 2 minutes.
  • Homelessness: Silicon Valley saw a significant number of homeless minors. There are over 1,500 youth ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness in San Jose (most of any major city).
  • Poverty: Approximately 60,000 children live in poverty in Santa Clara County.

"The spark that ignited our mission: A young girl's first birthday cake brought tears of joy and inspired us to spread that happiness in our community."

About Alison Bakewell:

Alison Bakewell started as a Cake4Kids baker in 2013. After her first cake, she decided her skills were better used in operations and joined the Cake4Kids operations team as a volunteer in 2014 so she could leave the baking and decorating to more talented bakers and instead put her IT skills to work to help set Cake4Kids up for growth. She joined the operations team full-time in 2017, first as Director of Operations and now as Executive Director. Before joining Cake4Kids, Alison spent more than 25 years in the high-tech industry in progressive IT roles, up to the executive ranks. Besides Cake4Kids, Alison enjoys golf, kayaking, hiking, and cooking for family and friends.

"Every cake we deliver is a message: You are seen, valued, and matter."

Show Notes:

  • How did Cake4Kids start? 
    • The organization began when founder Libby Grunder was inspired by a story of a foster girl who had never had a birthday cake. This led to the foundation of a group focused on delivering birthday cakes to foster youth. 
  • What is the mission of Cake4Kids? 
    • Initially serving foster youth, the organization expanded to help at-risk youth, including those in group homes and survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and homelessness. 
  • What is Alison’s involvement in Cake4Kids? 
    • Alison discusses her journey from a 20-plus-year career in tech to engaging with child advocacy and eventually leading operations at the organization. 
  • What are the impactful stories of Cake4Kids? 
    • Alison shares heartwarming stories about how the organization's efforts, like a Frank Sinatra-themed cake, have deeply touched the lives of children and their families. 
  • What is the cake request process in Cake4Kids? 
    • The episode details the process from a child's cake request to delivery, highlighting the personalized attention to each child's preferences and circumstances. 
  • What is the significance of Birthday Celebrations? 
    • This section emphasizes the importance of celebrating birthdays for underserved children, acknowledging their worth, and boosting their self-esteem. 
  • What are the dedications of the volunteers of Cake4kids? 
    • Inspirational stories about volunteers' commitment, including overcoming challenges like baking during power outages and personal emergencies, are shared. 
  • How does Cake4Kids address unique challenges? 
    • The segment discusses how fulfilling cake requests helps build trust between youth and caseworkers and changes the youths' perspectives on life and their worth.

"Our cakes are more than just confectionery delights; they are beacons of hope in the lives of children who need it most."

Episode Transcription

Give us a brief history of your organization, who do you serve, and how it did it all begin.

Well, I'll start with how it all began. Our founder, Libby Grunder, was reading an article about a young foster girl in the Midwest. And she had just been placed in a new home. She came home from school on her birthday, and her foster mom had baked her a birthday cake. The young lady walked through the door. Mom showed her the cake and said Happy Birthday. And the young lady burst into tears and ran to her room. The foster mom said, ” Oh my God, is it the wrong flavor? I don't know what, you know. Why is she so upset? She followed her into her room and said, if you don't like chocolate, I'll bake you another cake. You know, what can I do to make this better? And the young girl said that she wasn't crying because she was sad. She was happy. She had never had a birthday cake before in her life. So Libby thought if that was happening in the Midwest, it was probably also happening in her community, and she wanted to do something about it. So she rounded up her friends. She was quite the organizer and started partnering with a foster family agency in Silicon Valley. In our first year, we delivered 13 cakes, and that was Libby and her friends baking and providing to the foster youth. So, over time, we've expanded our mission. We don't just serve foster youth anymore. We serve at-risk youth, and that includes kids in foster homes, in group homes, survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking, youth experiencing homelessness in homeless shelters, unaccompanied youth who are living rough, which means they might not even be living in a shelter, they could be in their car under a freeway, you know, couch surfing from home to home. They get services from human and social services organizations in the area, and we partner with them to get the requests for the kids they serve. Then, our bakers deliver to our partners, never to the youth, and we do that for the privacy and safety of the youth. As you can imagine, someone who's escaped domestic violence or human trafficking does need their privacy for their protection. So, we extend that to all of the youth that we serve. So, over time, the population we've served has grown, so we don't just serve foster youth. We serve low-income families. We serve youth experiencing homelessness, and that could be in a homeless shelter, that could be living rough, or maybe they're living in a tent, in a car, under an overpass, they're couch surfing at friends' homes. We also serve survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. And we serve refugees. So our population has grown. Also, at-risk youth, some of those could be runaway youth. Some of them could be youth looking for a safe spot after school, and several organizations in the area provide that safe spot for LGBTQ plus or for kids trying to escape violence in their neighborhood, a safe place to be. And so we partner with agencies that serve all those populations.

So, several years ago, a friend of mine got me engaged with an organization that supported foster youth, the Silicon Valley Child Advocates. And it just really struck me how many foster youth there were in our area and how they were left behind and forgotten. And I retired from 20-plus years in the tech industry and was looking for things to do. And I stuffed a lot of envelopes and had a lot of nonprofits. And one day, I was reading the paper, and it said cake for kids, and you can bake for foster youth. I'm like, how hard could it be to bake a cake? That sounds fantastic. And you know, my last name's Bakewell, so this is perfect. Well, I baked my first cake, and baking was not the hard part. Decorating is hard. So even though my last name's Bakewell, this wasn't the perfect fit I thought it would be. A couple of months after my first cake, they reached out and said we were looking for help in operations. I have an IT background, so I reached out saying that, you know, I'd like to help them with IT. And I did that as well as work in operations. We were wholly volunteer-run at the very beginning. So, I volunteered for several years doing that. And then, our director of operations retired, and so I took over that role. Then, recently, our executive director retired, so I took on that role. Every day, I wake up thinking I have the best job in the world because some child will smile today because of what our organization is doing.

I'd love to. There are so many. Several years ago, this was probably my favorite story, and I told it repeatedly