Northern Va. volunteers are helping to bake birthday cakes for kids they’ll never meet

A cake made by a Cake4Kids volunteer. (Courtesy Mary Campbell )
A birthday cake baked by a Cake4Kids volunteer. (Courtesy Mary Campbell )

A few years ago, as her kids got older, Mary Campbell and her family settled in Northern Virginia. They’re a military family, but once they arrived, there was no longer the need for her to unpack, prepare for a new move or help her kids get settled in a new community.

On a website about what parents do in their free time, Campbell read one mom’s message about baking cakes for foster children. She wanted to do the same, but eventually learned the mom was based in California. So, Campbell contacted organizers and launched a local chapter of Cake4Kids, a national organization that says it makes free, custom birthday cakes for kids across the country who otherwise may not have them.

Now, Campbell has partnered with over 700 volunteers in Northern Virginia who she called “heroes.” The group has baked about 2,000 cakes in the last year.

FFX Now first reported Campbell’s efforts with the local Cake4Kids chapter.

“The thought of a child not having a cake for their birthday is heartbreaking,” Campbell said. “What drove me initially to get this started and to continue to do it every day is, as a mom, any parent who would not be able to provide a cake for their child, it must be really heartbreaking.”

The Northern Virginia Cake4Kids group partners with 115 agencies, including schools in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, Campbell said. The partner agency often lets families know that Cake4Kids is available to bake the cakes.

Then, a family requests a cake through a caseworker who enters the request into a portal, then it gets reviewed and sent out to bakers. Volunteer bakers can choose to bake a cake based on location, date and whether it has a theme they want to make.

One of the first cakes the group made, Campbell said, was for a boy who wanted the cake to look like a bowl of baked beans. The baker executed that vision with sugar candies and made a chocolate spoon.

A more recent request called for Spider-Man riding on a unicorn, which Campbell appreciated because “you can tell the child is using their imagination.” Campbell also enjoys cakes that have celebratory messages from parents, such as “‘Happy Birthday Jane, we love you, Mom and Dad.’ I love those, because that’s coming from the parent.”

While demand is picking up, Campbell said the pandemic “kind of shut us down.” The group didn’t operate for about three months, but did coordinate with caseworkers to make treats for families who had children that were struggling. One caseworker, Campbell said, left treats on children’s doorsteps.

Demand has increased substantially since then, with the group delivering about 1,000 cakes in the last six months.

“Now that we’re starting to get the cake requests in that I always knew we would,” Campbell said. “We’re really busy now.”

Campbell calls the volunteers the “heroes of the story,” because they make sure each cake is picked up by somebody. They fully fund the cake supplies, and never meet the kids they’re helping.

“The thought of each child receiving a cake is what keeps them going,” Campbell said.

At one high school, cakes have been delivered to the office without the child knowing. One 16-year-old teared up when the office staff presented him with the cake, Campbell said, “because he had not received one before.”

“There’s a lot of gratitude from the families,” Campbell said.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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