Every child should be made to feel special on his or her birthday. That’s the philosophy behind Sweet Blessings, a Lexington-based organization that bakes, decorates, and delivers birthday cakes to kids who are living in poverty, have a life-threatening illness, or have special needs.
Sweet Blessings’ cakes are no ordinary confections. Kids are nominated by school counselors or social workers, and the nominators give some background info on the kids’ favorite things. This allows the Sweet Blessings team to design a custom cake featuring something that the recipient really loves, like a favorite movie, book, or video game character.
Founder Ashley Gann came up with the idea for Sweet Blessings thanks to some divine inspiration.
“I was actually working in a professional bakery, and God just put it on my heart to spend more time making a difference and less time making a living,” says Gann. “One morning, the pastor at our church was talking about inner city outreach in downtown Lexington, and that’s when it clicked that I was supposed to use cakes to reach out to children and families.
“Our very first cake was on February 26 of 2011 and that year we made cakes for 163 children,” she says. “In 2018, we made cakes for over 2600 kids.”
Sweet Blessings serves children in Fayette and the surrounding counties. The need is large, but a dedicated team of volunteers makes the project possible.
“We start at nine in the morning for volunteers and we go until we’re done,” explains volunteer Linda Johnson. “It depends on how many cakes we have and it depends on how many volunteers we have.”
Volunteers work in teams simultaneously to complete each portion of the process. Some will be baking the cakes while others will be frosting cakes and others create artwork. Decorators use fondant to create the finished product, which will be boxed up and prepared for delivery.
Among the volunteers are college students, like University of Kentucky student Alex Nguyen.
“Something like this is a way to kind of relax but also be doing something for the community, so I really enjoy that aspect of it,” says Nguyen. “I’m an engineering student so, it’s a cool dynamic to go from very straightforward engineering to something very abstract and artistic.”
“I like being able to be creative with the cake and make it come to life and say, hey, I can do that too,” says volunteer Kayla Pigg, also a student at UK. “It’s really rewarding at the end of the day knowing that you’ve done something that in the end is going to help somebody else.”
“One of those other unintended outcomes is the difference that Sweet Blessings makes for those social workers or those other professionals that work with children,” adds Gann. “I even had one elementary school counselor say that her favorite part of her job was making referrals to Sweet Blessings. She usually is working with kids and families in that really tough parts of life, some things that the rest of us will never even imagine. But when she gives them a birthday cake, she’s imparting something joyful for them.”
The work can be both heart warming and heartbreaking, but in the end, the goal of Sweet Blessings is to give each kid a little bit of happiness, regardless of their circumstances.
“The stories just that we hear just will break your heart,” says volunteer and board member Connie Malone. “Kids who were 10 or 12 years old that this was their very first birthday cake. Very early on we made a birthday cake for a little girl who was in hospice and it was her last birthday cake. The purpose is to make that know that somebody loves them and cares that they feel special.”