Here is how the project went:
Although we have many projects in the works, the one we chose to invest most of our mini-grant in was our “care cakes” project. Originally we contacted a local women and children’s shelter to work with, but when we were unable to get in touch with anyone again to coordinate things, we began to look for other organizations and projects that could benefit from our services. We found the pandemic definitely made it a lot more difficult to contribute as much as we might normally be able to. Thankfully, we eventually found the perfect program to partner with. When wounded or disabled veterans and their families find themselves facing especially hard times, they can turn to the VA for medical care and assistance. While so much focus is appropriately placed on managing the family’s recovery, difficult times such as these can also leave parents and their children with little time, room or expenses for family entertainment including holiday celebrations. When the holidays roll around, the VA helps these military families, facing various hardships and struggling with challenging medical issues, to connect with organizations like the WAVE program which offers assistance and provisions donated by a network of individuals, families and businesses passionate about doing what they can to help, in appreciation for the sacrifice and service these veterans and their families have provided for their country. So, as a part of our Clarity, Courage and Compassion Campaign, we were so grateful to kickoff our first “care cakes” project collaborating with the WAVE program to bring these families, who have endured so much, some much needed holiday cheer. With a couple of award winning kid bakers for group members, we found ourselves in the unique position to be able to offer each family elaborate custom cakes, cupcakes, and special treat displays tailored to their children’s specific likes and designed to celebrate their holiday with a few of their favorite things…because no matter how hard life gets, no child should go without feeling special and celebrated! We were so very thrilled to find that our heartfelt contributions were received with such enthusiasm and that these simple gestures of kindness truly had such a positive impact on the families we were privileged to be of service to. For example, one three year old boy with a heart defect suffered a cardiac arrest in his last surgery and is now undergoing therapy to remedy neurological damage caused by the arrest. He is currently working on distinguishing green from blue, and he and his brothers and sister love Mickey Mouse. So, we were able to bake them a Mickey Christmas Cake with green pistachio custard cake, blue moon buttercream and a berry cream cheese filling. Another disabled veteran has an adopted son who was traumatized when he was very young, stunting his ability to speak and read which has in turn prompted a lot of teasing at school. He was so happy to receive his favorite green hot wheels cupcake display from some new friends that he and his mom wept. One wounded veteran mom has three daughters, one of whom is autistic and she absolutely loved her Disney princess scene so much she couldn't bear to let anyone eat any of the cupcakes...so we baked some extras set aside just for consumption. Along with sharing our care cakes, we had the opportunity to help contribute, assemble, load and distribute food, gifts and major necessities to extend a little help, a little hope and a lot of love to these families in need this holiday season. It was nothing short of magical! The project was a spectacular success and it was an absolute honor and privilege to bring so much joy to these very special families. In further news, our other Clarity, Courage and Compassion Campaign projects are coming along well. We are at least halfway through production of our educational video series and we hope to release our first installments this spring. Unfortunately, the pandemic has delayed our project for hospitalized children, but big plans are still in the works. Though hindered by the national health crisis, we continue to forge ahead volunteering when and where we can, as safely as possible, in efforts to do our part in aiding wildlife and environmental conservation efforts, as well as humanitarian plights. These various exploits are also documented in our upcoming videos along with ideas on how we can all make contributions to bring about positive change in the world around us even in these trying times. Future plans include some very exciting new prospects (including a book based on the Happily Ever After Cakers’ impactful Disney princess, they created just for their show) that will hopefully enable us to inspire more people across our community and beyond to make a positive impact on the world around us by choosing to act out of clarity, courage and compassion.
Through this project I/we learned:
One of the things we learned more about first hand was the great need for support of our veterans and their families, especially those who have been wounded and disabled in the service of their country. They have given so much and endured so much, and compassion and respect demand that we do what we can to help these families recover with dignity and find hope and joy in the years to come. Although there are different groups who collaborate on projects like this, it can sometimes be hard for these families to find or reach out to these organizations themselves. There is a real need to find ways to not only give more, but to reach more people, spread the word about these groups, and to make help more accessible, not just for the holidays, but all year round. Another aspect we learned about, was that a lot of these injured veteran’s family members are also struggling with added difficulties like serious medical issues, learning disabilities or other physical, emotional and financial stresses. It is important for us to not only do all we can to help others in need, but to raise awareness to different needs and encourage others in society to give whatever they can, be it time, aid or financial assistance in helping others. It is important for us, too, to reach those that are less inclined to the clarity, courage and compassion approach and help them to understand that when we are able to lend a helping hand to others, we are actually helping to build a stronger, better, more empowered community for all. I think that moving forward, our group is even more motivated to contribute and to find more ways we can address and solve some of these issues facing not only veterans in our community, but all those in need. The more people we help, the more we might reach and teach to understand the importance of caring for each other, and protecting the planet and all the other species our very existence is dependent upon.
What I/we might change:
Things went so well and both our members and WAVE leadership and volunteers were so pleased with the outcome and the impact our care cakes had on these families, that we are already making plans to participate again next year. We will be meeting soon to discuss ideas with them about expanding our work and our reach in the near future. One such idea, for example, is to erect a tree decorated with ornaments labeled HOPE please take one and inquire at the reception desk. Something simple like this might lead more veterans and their families to inquire about unadvertised services available to them. A very real difficulty the WAVE program encounters is being able to reach more people because they are not allowed to leave flyers or contact families personally. Instead these families must hear about them through the VA and then, swallowing all their pride, reach out to the organization themselves for help. This can be very daunting in itself for these veterans who are so used to being strong and taking care of everyone else. This is an issue that really needs to be addressed along with accessibility and the spread of information in order to make it easier for community members to apply for programs like these and receive help when and where they need it. So, finding creative ways to spread awareness and making sure these families can contact organizations for assistance, while feeling as though they are keeping their dignity intact will be a very important point of discussion, as well as more ways we can help throughout the year. Even now, there are already a few elements we would like to add to enhance and benefit our care cakes projects. After hearing each family’s incredible story and getting to know a bit about them, their struggles and their courage through these trials, we think it might be of benefit to include with our care cakes letters of hope and friendship from our group members along with photos to remember their special cakes and the warm wishes that went into them. Bearing hardships often leaves families feeling isolated, so we want to be sure these families know how much we care and appreciate them, and hopefully help them to feel less alone in all of this. We want to leave them all with a strong sense of hope as they journey through their troubles toward a brighter future.
My/our favorite part of this project was:
Our favorite part of this project was by far seeing the joy our “care cakes” brought to the families we received the honor of helping. The real gift was ours, in being granted the opportunity to be a part of this whole experience and the powerful impact this chance to do some real good for others, has afforded us all. Though our contributions were considerably less vital, everyone seemed to feel our cakes were “the belles of the ball.” It was so uplifting to see the children’s faces light up with excitement when their cakes were revealed, or to hear how very much this would mean to the children that couldn’t make the drive. Each “care cake” package was customized to reflect themes and aspects special to the children of each family, and we loved seeing them recognize that these cakes were made especially for them. These strong, brave, and wonderfully kind families were so overjoyed and immensely grateful that it was a truly inspiring experience for us to be able to do something thoughtful for someone else, and witness how our actions can really brighten others’ days. We feel so lucky and moved to have been able to extend a little love to these families and to have been a part of making their holiday a bit more magical!
Some tips, tricks or fun facts about the project:
Our first tip is, if at first things don’t work out quite as you planned, don’t be discouraged. Instead look for new places your services might do some good or new ways your ideas might be implemented, and “try, try again!” Another tip would be to find a project that you are truly passionate about. One of the reasons our work was so successful, had to do with the fact that we were all so excited about it and truly wanted to deliver a little “magic” to these families for the holidays. When we took on this project, originally we were prepared to simply bake and deliver our care cakes to the WAVE distribution site, but when we arrived we were glad to find ourselves able to contribute in other ways as well, such as aiding in the assembly, distribution, and delivery process. Another example of new ways we discovered we could help occurred when we heard one of the families included a seventeen year old girl who had only asked for a few small articles of clothing for Christmas. Upon hearing her story, a WAVE member offered that he would use his unique skills as a closet carpenter to make a beautiful jewelry box for her. This news inspired one of our own members to then use her jewelry-making skills to craft a beautiful pair of earrings for her jewelry box. In this way we were able to deliver an even more personalized and much appreciated experience for a considerate young girl. So our next tip, would be to always look for other areas in which you can help out in any given situation...you might find yourself able to contribute in unexpected ways. Explore how your skills, strengths, and talents can add unique value to your project. If you are interested in bringing some fresh baked bliss to groups in need in your community, keep in mind baking in a big way is very expensive, especially when baking for large numbers of people. From ingredients and decor elements to cake boards, packaging or props, be sure to budget before tackling your project. If you need extra help funding your project look for businesses or individuals, family or friends, that might be happy to lend a helping hand with discounts, donations, or services. Outside of our tremendously helpful mini-grant, our costs for this project were covered by the proceeds of the Angel Cakery (aka Disney Baking Champions The Happily Ever After Cakers) and the donations of family and a few of our members. The cake created by the Happily Ever After Cakers as their official Disney audition cake, cost upward of $300, just in materials. Not everyone can afford this sort of lavish expenditure, but all children deserve to enjoy the magic and delight of having something truly special personalized and created with love just for them! Also consider that your baked goodness does not necessarily need to be overly extravagant. At the end of the day, a tasty treat in the tummy will bring a smile to anyone’s face, regardless of its presentation. Another thing to consider is timing, especially if you are producing large quantities. You want your baked goods to be super fresh but you don’t want to be scrambling too hard to get everything done in time. So be sure to plot out your schedule carefully, accounting for preparation, baking, setting, icing and decorating times etc. Remember that some decorative figures could be sculpted and stored until needed, or cookie dough could be prepared in advance and chilled or frozen until it is time to bake. Every minute counts when trying to build a masterpiece on the clock. Storage is yet another thing to take into consideration. If you are baking for bunches, be sure you have the refrigeration space you will need accounted for and arranged ahead of time. Lastly, always be sure to follow health and safety guidelines when preparing and/or dealing with food items. Wash hands thoroughly, wear a mask and gloves, keep hair back and avoid loose clothing, always be sure to sanitize work surfaces and tools thoroughly, and always store food at the proper temperature in sealed food safe containers, and be sure to use allergen-free products if you are unsure of whether any food allergies exist. It is always a good idea to include a list of ingredients and a written reminder of the date your goods were produced.