Spreading sweetness: Cake4Kids bakes free cakes for youth in need across Fairfax County

A girl smiles after receiving a free Cinderella-themed birthday cake through the Fairfax County chapter of Cake4Kids, an organization that provides free cakes to underserved youth (courtesy Mary Campbell)

For many, a cake on their birthday is a given. However, for others, it’s a quiet luxury that they are unable to attain.

Recognizing this unfortunate reality, Cake4Kids — a national organization with a Fairfax County chapter founded by Mary Campbell in 2019 — seeks to make birthday cakes accessible for all.

According to Campbell, her Cake4Kids chapter makes and delivers free custom cakes for major celebratory events, including birthdays, graduations, adoptions, and academic achievements, to people aged 1-24 throughout Northern Virginia. Popular cake themes include Disney, Minecraft and Fortnite.

“We’re helping families because some of them don’t have the resources, and it may be a choice between paying a bill and getting a cake,” Campbell said. “We want to remove that burden for them and be able to provide the cake that they want for their child. In other cases, it strengthens the bonds between a case worker and a child.”

Campbell’s branch of Cake4Kids is currently partnered with 117 organizations across the county, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, community centers, affordable housing nonprofits, immigration clinics and homeless and domestic violence shelters.

The collaborations help the chapter increase its reach and make a positive impact on as many families and children as possible — an impact that Campbell finds “hard to quantify.”

“I hear stories about the impact [Cake4Kids] has on families and children,” Campbell said. “I hear from schools how students are brought to tears when they realize they’ve just received a cake — families that are so relieved that they were able to give their child a cake that they too are brought to tears.”

Celebrating its four-year anniversary in May by delivering its 4,000th cake to a 14-year-old girl in Fairfax County, Campbell’s chapter has grown tremendously since its inception as a one-woman operation.

After baking 163 cakes in its first year, the chapter now has a hearty team of 750 volunteer bakers who successfully made 2,000 cakes in 2022. Its success relies on the dedication of a team of “heroes” who spend their free time baking and delivering cakes all across the county, Campbell says.

In many instances, the bakers never meet the children they baked a cake for, instead dropping the cake off with the organization, case worker or family who requested it. Campbell says this allows the child to build trust in and bond with their loved one without Cake4Kids imposing.

Even without the gratification of seeing in real time the often emotional reactions of those receiving the free cakes, her team of bakers continues to eagerly monitor their online portal for cake requests and get right to work when one comes through, according to Campbell.

“I can’t stress enough how many wonderful people we have in our chapter who work tirelessly to help us grow and get the word out there and help find more bakers and more agencies and raise funds,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s family has even joined her in the cause, she says, with her children and husband traveling all across Northern Virginia to handle many requests.

“It truly is a team effort. In fact, my son is on his way to Alexandria right now delivering cupcakes for me because I’m on crutches,” Campbell laughed.

Though she initially launched Cake4Kids in Fairfax County as a way to fill the free time she gained from her kids getting older and becoming more independent, Campbell’s charitable passion has turned into a full-time career. Several years ago, Campbell was promoted to a paid position running day-to-day operations at the nationwide level, which she does in addition to volunteering as a Northern Virginia ambassador, she says.

While the promotion means she focuses more on logistics and less on baking, Campbell still remains inspired by the creative ingenuity taken by her bakers after they receive a cake request. She says her favorite cake ever made featured “Spider-Man riding a unicorn.”

“I love it when a theme like that comes in because I can’t wait to see how these creative bakers are going to interpret that and put it on a cake,” Campbell said.

Looking ahead, Campbell hopes to continue spreading the word about Cake4Kids so the chapter can build more partnerships and more effectively “reach every child and family that wants to place a cake request with us,” she says.

“We’re always growing, we’re always looking for more bakers,” Campbell said. “We’re always looking for more families to help.”

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