I don’t normally do posts like this, but I had such an inspiring and amazing week end I kind of have to. Plus, my friends at TLC Cake Crew just shipped me a brand-new Flip so I’m working on a video blog this week end – which means no new recipes until next week. (Trust me, it will be worth it. I have found new levels of gluttony and plan on invading your personal space with them.)

If you remember last week’s post, you’ll know that Tony, Teno and I spent the week end in Madison, WI so I could sit on the judging panel for the Baking Magic for Kids Bake Off benefitting Capital Candlelighters. I was pretty excited to meet my fellow judge and Cupcake Wars alumn Stefanie Gaxiola, the firecracker behind Red Velvet Stefanie.

First of all, it was my first trip to Madison and to my Madison readers I have to say I loved it. I have rural fear, so I was thankful that it had all the comforts of the city with just enough charm to remind me that I was no longer in Chicago. (Seriously, once I’m out of city limits I start to feel like some Texas Chainsaw Massacre shit is about to go down.) We partied at Ella’s Deli not once but twice, shopped around Pop Deluxe and squealed with delight as we actually got a seat at Ian’s Pizza (nearly impossible to do at their Chicago location.) After breakfast at Marigold Kitchen on Sunday morning we headed on over to Verona Hometown days.

I spotted Stefanie from a mile away – a blonde, tanned ray of sunshine among us doughy Midwesterners. We didn’t waste any time getting down to business – tasting about 20 pies and 5 or so cakes and gossiping about our experiences on Cupcake Wars. After we voted we took our seats on the Capital Candlelighters float and took a tour of Verona in their annual parade. I was so impressed with Stefanie not only because her red velvet cheesecake is a best-seller on The Cheesecake Factory’s menu, but also because her cake mix business is booming right now and she seems to have everything in place for world domination. Obviously meeting Stef and eating pie made for a pretty awesome Sunday, but I was truly touched getting to know the people behind Baking Magic for Kids and CapCan.

We raised $420 at Arluck Time!

Sadly, I think most of us have been affected by cancer in one way or another. I lost my friend Mat just over six months ago – many people I spoke with had lost children or nearly lost children. I honestly couldn’t wait to get back to Teno – even if he was acting like a total turd I just wanted to hug him and thank my lucky stars that the worst he’s ever had it was food poisoning from ancient soy milk. Hearing their stories, and then finding out that the economy has made it really tough for them to help families in need this year absolutely broke my heart. I can’t imagine what it would be like if Teno was sick and I couldn’t afford the food for his tube feeding. And I can’t imagine how hard it must be for CapCan to turn families away due to a lack of funding.

Something I’ve found so inspiring and awesome about the baking community is people’s willingness to give of themselves to help others. I’ve been involved in a handful of charity bake sale and it’s just flooring to see not only how many people will turn up with some kind of homemade awesomeness in tow, but also how generous shoppers are when they know their money is going to a good cause. Handing over a wad of cash to Grind for Life at Mat’s memorial was the best feeling on Earth.

So anyway, I wanted to let you in on this week end because it reminded me that there is so much that we as bakers can do besides feed people. The next time your friend’s band is playing, have them ask the venue if you can set up a bake sale table to benefit your local women’s shelter, theater group, or gay and lesbian teen alliance – whatever you’re passionate about. Having a garage sale? Add a cupcake table and a sign stating where the money from the bake sale is going. People will donate, and your cupcakes might entice them to come check out your vintage Wacky Packages collection while they’re at it. And shoot, Chicago – if you’re working on a bake sale make sure to call me!

If you’d like to get started, but aren’t sure who to benefit, these are a few great causes I believe in:

  • Grind for Life – providing assistance with families suffering from the effects of cancer
  • Capital Candlelighters – supporting families of children with cancer in the Madison area
  • Built on Respect – fighting cultural genocide, ageism and discrimination while raising social and political awareness
  • Women for Women – providing financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education to female survivors or war, civil strife and other conflicts world-wide
  • Imerman Angels – just found out about this one through work – they were in need of reusable bags to use to distribute lemon candies┬áto people receiving chemotherapy, apparently they help to cover up the bad taste the treatment leaves in people’s mouths. This org pairs cancer survivors with cancer patients for 1-on-1 support.
  • Girls Rock! Chicago – rock n’ roll camp for girls 8-16. Teaching a love of music and building confidence in young women when they need it most.

That might seem random, but those are all organizations that have touched me personally for one reason or another. Do you have a great non-profit to share? Do it! That’s what comments are for! And remember – use your cookies for good, and save your cupcakes for evil.