DuPont - Mischell Devine-Nunner of DuPont was passing the time on a vacation flight to Mexico in 2008 when an article in People magazine caught her attention.
It highlighted the work of a Georgia woman whose efforts providing free birthday cakes to needy children was spreading around the country.
Devine-Nunner had been looking for volunteer work. The South Pierce County woman nudged her husband, Alan. “This is it.”
She grew up baking. Her first baked item, when she was just 10 years old, was a birthday cake for her mother. She put her passion and skill to work in the kitchen each year for her two daughters, family members and even her own birthday.
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“I was struck that there are little kids out there that don’t have a birthday cake,” she said.
Before long a nonprofit organization called Free Cakes for Kids South Sound was born.
More than two years later, business has never been so sweet.
The number of volunteers has risen from the original four to 53. The group of bakers fulfilled 607 requests for cakes and cupcakes last year, more than double that of 2009. Devine-Nunner expects to “easily top” that figure in 2011 as word of mouth spreads and a weak economy remains.
Her volunteers stretch north to Bellingham and south to Vancouver. Working with subchapters in Spokane and Yakima, free birthday cakes are delivered throughout Washington except for the Tri-Cities area; Devine-Nunner said she’s working to fill that gap.
She’s proud to say her volunteers have never missed a delivery.
In this economic climate, said Autumn Coolbaugh, the organization’s marketing director, the choice facing many families is between a birthday gift and a birthday cake.
The group donates cakes to the children of parents who are in prison. It delivers cakes to send-off parties organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
It now works with more than 20 organizations, including food banks, homeless shelters and foster care programs in Western Washington.
“It’s a really special treat for them to get that, and it probably wouldn’t come from anyone else,” said Grace Runyan, a case manager at the Pierce County Alliance, which provides case management for foster kids.
“The ladies put in a lot of time and effort to make these cakes special, and I commend them for what they do.”
She added: “We have been astonished by the quality of the cakes. They look 100 percent professional, and they’re doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. You just don’t see a lot of that.”
Cake or cupcakes that serve 24, the maximum donated by the organization, can cost between $20 to $25 on average and take five to six hours to complete, Devine-Nunner estimated. A volunteer provides one or two cakes a month, on average. Volunteers pay out of their own pocket what can’t be covered by donations or fundraising.
Staci Goodfield began volunteering in December. She enjoys making cakes and candies for her family but told her soldier-husband, Gregory, when he returned from a recent deployment that she wanted a reason to resume baking, “not just to make us fat.”
She connected with the local Free Cakes for Kids chapter after stumbling onto an Internet notice.
Goodfield, the mother of five children, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. She said it’s getting harder to bake as she can’t stand on her feet as long, but she’s vowed to push through it.
“I see that life is short,” said Goodfield, whose family lives at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “I want to make other people happy as much as my life has been happy.”
The reaction from recipients can be strong when volunteers knock on the door, delivery in hand.
Devine-Nunner recalled delivering a cake to a young man whose family kicked him out of his home because he’s gay. It was a simple cake: neon green icing with geometrical shapes. For someone who was turning 18 and never had one, however, it meant much more.
“He actually, upon receipt of that cake, started crying,” she said.
On Jan. 22, Goodfield knocked on the door of Lakewood resident Rubin Thomas, a single father, to deliver three dozen cupcakes for the eighth birthday of one of his two sons, Rubin Jr.
Thomas is a former pipefitter who severely injured his back on a job in Gig Harbor in 2002. Unable to work and living on child support and public assistance, Thomas, who walks with a cane, said he’s appreciative of the organization’s work.
“They’ve been a blessing to have around,” he said.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 firstname.lastname@example.org