From right: Jill Padayachee; her daughter, Caitlin, who made this cake for little Logan; volunteer baker Amanda Lock and family support worker Ben McDonald

Changing The World One Cake At A Time

19th September 2014

Kathy Walton talks to Jill Padayachee, local founder of a charity with a very
simple and personal goal, and hears how she and her fellow volunteers are

A birthday without a cake just wouldn't be the same. Like Christmas without mince pies, Easter without chocolate eggs and beach holidays without ice-cream, it's unthinkable, whatever your age. For children especially, the cake is the absolute centrepiece of their birthday. Whether it's a train, a princess or a crocodile, kids rush home from school to see it, describe it in every technicolour detail to Granny over the phone, even take a selfie while eating it.

So it comes as a shock to discover that there are children in this day and age who don't get a cake on their birthday. There could be several reasons for this: their family may be very poor, their home may be a violent one, or their parent(s) could be too far under the influence of drugs or alcohol to even think about buying a cake, let alone making one. They may be too busy with work, trying to make ends meet, or caring for a sick child or other family member.

Whatever the reason, a small but wonderfully creative charity called Free Cakes For Kids wants to put this right, one cake at a time.

The charity's recipe for success is deliciously simple. Volunteers are asked to make and decorate a birthday cake for a child they will never meet, who has been referred to them usually by social services or a support worker from the child's primary school.

Founded in December 2008, the charity currently has just under 100 groups of volunteer bakers across the country and like a perfectly whipped sponge, that number is rising.
The Watford arm of the charity was started in 2012 by Jill Payadachee, 45, from Oxhey. A former IT analyst, Jill explains that her own life took a nose dive two years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She decided to give up work in order to spend more time with her then 10-year-old daughter and also wanted to find a creative outlet for herself that would help her through her cancer treatment.
When she heard about Free Cakes For Kids, she knew this was it and so, whenever she had the energy between chemo sessions, she got baking. “It made me feel so much better because I found it relaxing and although I was tired, I was motivated to help a child,” she says.

Jill has since built up a group of ten volunteers (including two men) who make birthday cakes for children aged 11 and under in the Watford area.

There's no Bake-off or Ready, Steady, Cook style audition to pass (although the bakers do need to know about basic food hygiene). The only qualification they need is enthusiasm.
Typically, a cake will take Jill three days to make and decorate, but she stresses that the charity isn't looking for Michelin-starred chefs.

“A tasty cake covered in butter icing and Smarties is enough to bring a smile to the face of the birthday girl or boy, some of whom may never had had such kindness shown to them before,” she says. “For the children, it's not just about the cake, it's the fact that someone has made something special for them. Because someone has cared enough, they feel loved, cared for and special.”
For reasons of confidentiality, the bakers never know who their creations are for. All a volunteer will be told is that a boy called Matt supports Chelsea and would love a football cake for his seventh birthday; or that Beccy, aged five, adores pink and enjoys ballet. After that, the baker is free to let her (or his) imagination run wild, with often spectacular results.

Jill is hoping to find more more volunteers in the Watford area and is currently appealing to supermarkets for vouchers that her bakers can exchange for cake ingredients. The volunteers are not paid for their ingredients or labour, but according to Jill, their rewards come in a different form.

“Every time I make a cake I know I have helped create a lifelong memory for a child. It's a wonderful feeling,” she says.

Although Jill and her fellows never see the recipients of their cakes, one lucky man who does is 35-year-old Ben McDonald, a family support worker attached to Laurance Haines Primary School in Watford. Ben heard about the charity earlier this year and has since referred several pupils.

“There are so many children suffering as a result of family breakdowns, who suffer from low self-esteem, or develop behavioural difficulties because they lack family structure,” he explains. “As soon as I heard about the charity, I knew this would be fantastic for the community.”

One little boy, Rob (not his real name), comes from a loving family, but was a loner at school and suffered from desperately low self-esteem. Ben gave the charity an idea of Rob's interests and had the pleasure of delivering Rob's cake: a huge purple confection shaped like a grand piano.

“Rob was speechless, over the moon; it made his day. From then on, I really saw a spring in his step,” says Ben.

Another volunteer, 24-year-old Shenny Leung from Radlett, joined the group in April when she wanted to do something meaningful in her free time. Since then, she has made four cakes: a Superman, a fairy house adorned with flowers, an athletics track and a cake on the Doc McStuffin theme (a Disney character which Shenny admits she had to google). She estimates that each cake takes her two days and costs £15-£20 to make, but is happy to see the expense as her way of donating to charity.

“It feels really good that I'm making a small difference to one child on one day. Hopefully the child feels loved and it brings the family together, she says.

Despite the obvious good that the charity does, it is not without its online critics. Thankfully, any detractor who questions the ethics of giving elaborate cakes to deprived children (‘how very Marie Antoinette’ was one cynical message) usually gets short shrift from the charity's many supporters.

Quite right too, says Ben McDonald. “It's very easy to give money, but you can't buy the kindness of a volunteer and when a child is told they are wonderful [enough to be given a cake], it is so empowering and it has a lasting effect. You can't buy that smile on a kid's face.”

To volunteer or for more information, email: freecakesforkidswatford@gmail.com or call 07837 406272.

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