Tucson at Its Best 

We profile six organizations (out of many) working hard to make Tucson the sort of place we want to live

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Cakes for Causes

Rene Luedeman was at the Home and Patio Show with the Icing on the Cake baking club on Jan. 8, 2011, when she heard that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others had been shot outside a grocery store on the north side of town.

"When things like that happen, people are hurting. The community hurts, everybody hurts, and you really want to help," Luedeman said.

She went home and pitched the idea of forming a nonprofit to her husband, who agreed to support the endeavor. "Blindly," she adds. "I'm a retired scientist and he's a computer man. We knew nothing about filing for nonprofit status, but we made our way through."

Luedeman rounded up several members of the baking club and became the founder and executive director of Cakes for Causes, a nonprofit that bakes cakes and cookies for other nonprofits. The organization consists of about 45 bakers, including a modest operation in Phoenix.

Jess Bemiss, who runs the custom cake business Sweets by Jess out of her home, is one of the bakers Luedeman recruited from the club. Bemiss is in charge of scheduling events and organizing bakers.

"It's just something that I really love to do," Bemiss said, adding that the work has introduced her to a lot projects and people in Tucson. "It's a lot of fun ... it's the people. It's so great to work with them."

While they speak fondly of many of Tucson's nonprofits, Luedeman and Bemiss seem to agree that the most rewarding work they do is for the Diamond Children's Center at University of Arizona Medical Center. When chronically ill children are in the hospital on their birthdays, staffers call Bemiss to see if someone has time to bake a birthday cake.

"I like to do that because those kids wouldn't get a cake otherwise," Bemiss said. "They'll give us a theme and we can just go crazy with it." She recalls decorating one cake with handcuffs and a cop's hat for a little boy who wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.

The bakers also run a monthly program called "You've Been Caked for Kindness" that takes nominations for people working or volunteering at a nonprofit, and bakes them a cake to say thank you.

"We don't expect (to charge other nonprofits)," Luedeman said. "If we have the baker power and we have the funds to do it, we don't expect a donation. We save other groups some of their budget."

Cakes for Causes recently started turning down some requests because it doesn't have the resources to keep up with the volume. But the bakers take on as much work as they can.

"I always tell the crew, 'All right, I have to talk about the F-word again.' It's fundraising," Luedeman says with a laugh. "You gotta have money to get ingredients—and a temporary food permit is $60 each time. That's at least three or four cakes we could make for the Diamond center."

In an effort to spread the budget as far as possible, the Cakes for Causes board voted to serve food only at events that agree to pay for the permit. Otherwise, volunteers are happy to drop the sweets off before an event.

"Since Jan. 1 of this year, we have made about 17,000 treats and helped out 95 events between here and Phoenix," Luedeman says, noting that with only about 45 bakers, it can get a little hectic. "Cue circus music," she adds, referring to the frenzied schedule. "We learned food is love. It can heal; it can say thank you. Not only can it bring happiness to people, but it also feeds them. It's a passion. Everyone does it from their heart, and we always get it done."

Cakes for Causes requires that all bakers have a Pima County Health Department certificate and be registered with the state of Arizona under the cottage food law, which allows them to bake from home. For information about volunteering to help bake cakes or to request help with an event, go to cakesforcauses.org.

— Chelo Grubb, mailbag@tucsonweekly.com


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