Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cakes For Tots: An Interview with Victoria Muramoto

I recently attended a baking class at Tante Marie Cooking School in San Francisco taught by Meg Ray of Miette Patisserie fame. It was a great class, but more on that in another posting.

While taking this class I met Victoria Muramoto, founder of
Cakes for Tots.

The class we were taking focused primarily on baking and decorating cakes. Victoria announced to our class that she had just launched Cakes for Tots so that no child would go without a birthday cake just because their parents couldn't afford one.

Victoria lives on the S.F. Peninsula and she was asking for volunteers who also lived on the Peninsula to help her bake if her project created too much demand for her to do all the baking. She also wanted us to refer families in need to her.

I was intrigued by her project and wanted to know more about her and it. I couldn't help wondering who couldn't afford $2-$3 to buy a cake mix.

I spent some time with her on the phone last week and after I hung up, I felt humbled by her explanation and inspired by her mission.

Here is my interview with Victoria:

How did you come up with the idea for Cakes for Tots?

A few months ago I read about a woman in Georgia who was baking cakes for families in need. I was intrigued by her story so I contacted her to find out more. We started corresponding and she encouraged me to reach out to families in need in my own area.

It was hard for me to believe that a parent couldn't afford a cake for their child. I learned that not only do these parents not have money to spend on the luxury of a cake, those in homeless shelters don't have a kitchen at their disposal to bake one.

I wasn't sure if I could replicate her success -- she is a social worker and has a lot of ways to find out who might be in need.

But I made flyers and distributed them to a women's shelter in San Jose.

I now bake about three cakes a week for them.

Are you focusing exclusively on the San Jose area?

No, my vision for Cakes for Tots is one that encompasses the SF Bay Area.
I hope to have bakers that can help with the baking and delivery throughout this area.

How are you getting the word out?

I continue to hand out flyers to women's shelters, homeless shelters and similar organizations.

I recently launched my website and I'm in the process of creating an ad that will run in Bay Area Parent Magazine.

I realize that my target audience may not have access to a computer to see my website but I'm hoping that people who know of someone in need will refer them to me.

Have you always been a baker?

About a year ago I got really interested in baking. It was just a sudden desire. I didn't bake as a child. Once I started baking, I found I had a real knack for it. I find it to be incredibly relaxing -- I turn on Billie Holiday and go to it!

What kinds of cakes do you bake -- do you have a signature cake?

Red Velvet is my signature cake. It looks really dramatic once it is cut -- the layers of red and white create quite a contrast.

I generally ask the parents what kind of cake their child would like -- chocolate or white and what kind of frosting. I always put the child's name on the cake. I also provide the candles.

I primarily bake two-layer cakes and sometimes a sheet cake. I generally don't get requests for cupcakes although I did just buy a giant cupcake pan to try!

Right now I only bake birthday cakes for young children but I am open to providing cakes for other celebratory events and also to other age groups.

How did the Tante Marie class with Meg Ray help you?

Well, I usually make the cakes from a mix but I really wanted to branch out and make them from scratch. I also wanted to improve my decorating skills. The class helped me in both areas.

But what really helped was that after the class, Meg Ray invited me to a one-on-one class with her at her bakery in Oakland. I just completed that this week and I learned a lot. Meg is incredibly generous.

How do you pay for your supplies?

Right now I pay for everything. I'm hoping that as the word spreads about this project, people will go to my website and make a donation. But for now it isn't more than I can handle.

So, do you sit around and bake all day or do you have a day job?

I work as a bio-pharmaceutical consultant and I have a 12-year old daughter. So, life is busy!

What does your daughter think of Cakes for Tots?

She loves it! And she helps me bake as well. She is at the age where everything and everyone are influencing her. I love that I can show her how to be of service to others.

After I spoke with Victoria, I did an Internet search to see if other groups or individuals were providing a similar service. I found only one organization in the S.F. Bay Area: the East Bay offices of CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate firm, hosts a program called CBRE Cares. On the East Coast, I located a firm in Maryland called Cakes for Cause.

Both organizations have official programs with board of directors, mission statements and press releases.

Although both are providing a very worthwhile service to their communities, I couldn't help but admire Victoria's more personal approach and her commitment to preserving the dignity of the people who request her cakes. When I asked her how it felt to see the child's face light up when they saw their birthday cake, she said, "I love giving parents one less thing to worry about and a way to celebrate their child's special day. But I prefer to remain in the background so I simply drop the cake off at the front desk of the shelter."

So, help Victoria spread the word about this wonderful project. You can contact her at 408-507-2239 or go to her website: cakesfortots.com

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