Bake Me a Wish helps families send birthday cakes to soldiers in Iraq, elsewhere

2008-04-23T00:00:00Z Bake Me a Wish helps families send birthday cakes to soldiers in Iraq, elsewhereCARRIE STEINWEG
Times Correspondent
April 23, 2008 12:00 am  • 

Imagine this: You're on a military base in the Iraq desert.

The sun is beating overhead, and the sand is blowing in your face. You're hot and dirty and hungry and sweaty with all the gear on your back. It's your 25th birthday -- and you're half a world away from home, thinking about the family you wish you could be celebrating with.

Suddenly, you're greeted with a fudgy cookies-and-cream brownie cake, covered with chunks of Oreo cookies and drizzled with white chocolate, topped with a decadent piece of Belgian chocolate.

Sounds about as likely as a pig flying over the desert.

But the scenario is happening, thanks to Bake Me A Wish, a gourmet baking company founded in 2004 in New York by Josh Kaye.

Growing up with a challenged background, Kaye often marveled at elaborate cakes at other children's birthday parties, always longing for one of his own.

"A birthday is something very special," Kaye said.

"It's a special occasion, and a cake really makes it special."

Now that Kaye is a parent himself, he makes the kind of cakes he would serve to his own kids for their birthdays.

"Cakes make us feel remembered and special," said Kaye, noting his gift cakes are shipped in an elegant decorative box.

When Kaye started his company, part of his mission was good will, to do something to make the world a better place. He decided to work with the Make A Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

Bake A Wish donates 5,000 cakes a year to sick kids through Make A Wish. He also donates 5 percent of the online sales to that organization.

That mission of good will was expanded in 2005 when he got a call from a mom of a soldier serving overseas who wanted to send him a birthday cake.

"At first I thought we couldn't do it. But then I thought, 'what if we could do that to provide soldiers -- who are risking their lives -- a cake to lift them up and make them feel special on their birthday?' "

Kaye said several recipes were created, and special packaging was developed to preserve the down-home-flavored gourmet cakes for the trip overseas so that it arrives looking the same as when it was made.

Operation: Birthday Cake was born. The cakes are available for sale, at cost, on the company's Web site, and can be sent to military personnel deployed in the Middle East and other locations.

About 4,000 cakes have been sent overseas so far as part of Operation: Birthday Cake. Kaye's goal is to find a corporate sponsor that will underwrite the entire project, so that anyone serving overseas can receive a free cake on his or her birthday.

Currently, the donated cakes are sent to contacts through the Armed Forces Foundation and Soldier's Angels. A facilitator works with a family to place the order. Currently, 25 cakes a month are sent free of charge as part of the program with AFF.

Sharon Coleman of Chicago was notified of the program through AFF and requested a cake for her son, Jason Memmen, who is serving with the U. S. National Guard in Kuwait.

"I'm having a carrot cake sent," Coleman said.

"That's his favorite. He makes a mean carrot cake."

Coleman was able to send a note to her son along with the cake. She said that although they e-mail each other, she doesn't have a computer at home and isn't able to keep in touch with him as much as she'd like, so contacting him with a cake was really special.

A cancer survivor, who raised her kids as a single mom, Coleman is grateful to have the opportunity to send a cake to her son.

She encourages other families with loved ones deployed to connect with organizations, such as the Armed Forces Foundation, which can provide support during a difficult time.

This year, the site is helping soldiers provide a treat to their mothers, by enabling soldiers overseas to go online and order a cake to send to their moms back home to celebrate Mother's Day.

Thousands of cakes are donated each year for families to send free of charge to loved ones serving overseas.

For each cake bought through the site, 5 percent is donated to provide cakes for Operation: Birthday Cake, in addition to 5 percent going to the Make A Wish Foundation.

Cakes being sent within the United States can be received the next day if the order is placed by 3 p.m. EST; overseas orders require two weeks notice.

Kaye has received many letters of thanks from families who received cakes, he said.

"One was from a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, and it was her second birthday there in the mountains. The soldier was feeling totally down and what the cake did for her was an incredible experience," he said.

"She's coming home next month and she's just delighted."

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