Giving Back Through Baking Birthday Cakes

Apr 28, 2017

Montclair High School students making super birthday cakes
Credit Human Needs Food Pantry

Can high schoolers make a difference in their community by baking a cake?  A group of Montclair High School students are trying to do just that.

On a Friday afternoon in April, while other students are fleeing Montclair High School, about fifteen young women assembled in a second floor classroom with a cake and brownies. But they weren’t having a party.

Instead, they were making plans for an upcoming bake sale. The club is called “Baking for a Change,” and they discussed where they want to donate the money they raise – the local animal shelter or a conservation project.

They donate a lot of money to charity, but they also wanted to donate their baked goods.

“With all the leftovers of our bake sales, we will give to the Human Needs Food Pantry, and if they’re not open that day, we give it to the Salvation Army, which is downtown in Montclair,”

said senior Lexi Greenbaum, one of the co-presidents of the club.

The club’s advisor, English teacher Jeffrey Friedman said the students then had another idea for a way to help those in need.

“And then one day they said, you know what, we think we would like to make cakes for those people who really can’t afford to have a cake, because cakes can be really expensive.”

Which could be considered a luxury for some people in need.

“You know, these people, sometimes some of them are struggling to buy food for the week so birthday cakes sometimes are a little bit beyond their means,”

said Mike Bruno, the director at the Human Needs Food Pantry.

The Human Needs Food Pantry helps give food to more than 2,000 adults and more than 1,000 children from 1,400 households. They serve 14 towns throughout Essex County.

“I usually have somebody in tears in this office at least once a week that they can’t believe they found themselves in this spot,”

Bruno said.

“And when I speak about this, I always tell people, every one of us is one job downsizing, one major medical issue away from being a client here. It’s pervasive, it’s terrible.”

And, yet, people still have birthdays.

“People still have holidays, they still have birthdays, they still want to celebrate,”

he said.

So the Baking for Change Club wants to help them celebrate with a custom made cake.

The club’s other co-presidents, juniors Joni Mae de los Santos and

Beata Kaz explained that a parent or a guardian can order a cake for their child at the Human Needs Food Pantry by filling out an application that asks for a favorite color, interests, hobbies, cake flavor preference, and any other details they may want.

“We try to, like, let the kids really customize their cakes so they have a really nice cake,”

de los Santos said.

“We just want to make kids happy and have a really nice birthday,”

Kaz  added.

“That’s what the goal of the program is. For us, it’s hard to imagine a birthday without a birthday cake.”

And Bruno and his colleagues at the Human Needs Food Pantry are excited about it.

“I thought it was such a great, innovative idea,”

he said.

“I mean, for them to connect with us is so randomly bizarre. For them to be over there in a baking club and think about, well, we could bake cakes for poor people. I thought that was just brilliant. That touched me tremendously that these young kids decided to come and help us. It has a real impact. When I tell you the first cake that we gave, that lady was so excited to see that cake for her child that she would have paid a lot of money for in a routine bakery, it meant a lot.”

Maura received a cake last month for her 12-year-old son’s birthday. He’s a big fan of the Barcelona soccer team, so the cake was decorated like a soccer ball with the team’s logo.

“It's different than other decorations because at the bakeries, they make flowers or put some plastic decorations, but this was all done with excellence,”

she said in Spanish.

“It was made by hand and with pride. It’s so cute, and I’m very grateful for everything.”

The Human Needs Food Pantry shared a picture of Maura’s son’s cake on Facebook, and a hundred followers liked or commented support.

“I think everyone looks at it for what it is: it’s a group of young people getting together to do something really nice for a bunch of people in need,”

Bruno said.

“Who could have concerns about that?”

Bruno says that as long as students want to continue the collaboration, he will gladly advertise the opportunity to his clients. And the club, which has 98 members in its Facebook group, is excited to continue the program.

“We just want, as long as the process is working, we just want it to work,”

Greenbaum said.

“We’re happy that people who are receiving the cakes are happy and as long as that keeps running. It’s, like, a really rewarding thing, like we’re all so busy and we all have really hectic schedules and this is our way of giving back to the community that works.”