Bakers Journal

Cupcake Relief

March 31, 2010
By Susana Molinolo

On Jan. 12, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, causing unprecedented death and destruction in the already impoverished nation.

 Cupcakes for Haiti raised $12,000 and valuable media exposure.

On Jan. 12, a massive earthquake struck Haiti, causing unprecedented death and destruction in the already impoverished nation. Instead of being sucked into a vacuum of sorrow and sadness over the tragedy, I decided to channel all of my emotion into something proactive.

Two days after the disaster, I called my friend Nancy Botelho and pitched her my idea. She said, “Whatever you do, you’ve got my support, and I’ll help you find people to help.”


I came up with the concept of Cupcakes for Haiti – a bake sale at our family home in Toronto. I decided on cupcakes rather than a generic bake sale because in December I’d helped run a winter holiday bake sale at my son’s school. We had solicited bakers to donate products, and received huge amounts of fresh-from-the oven goodies. One particular tray of designer cupcakes sold out in a flash. I remember thinking that we should have charged more for those (because we were fundraising for the school’s foster child in Africa), and if we ever do another bake sale, we should just focus on cupcakes.

Watching people shop at the bake sale was educational. I’ve always worked in sales or customer service, and have sold all types of food products, but I’d never experienced the joy, the dialogue, the giddiness that comes from selling items that are worth their weight in gold – that is, covered in colourful, animated and tantalizing sugar.

I spoke with Nancy Gavin, manager of brand development at Redpath Sugar Ltd. in Toronto, and asked her, “What is so magical about sugar?”

Her response: “Sugar is such a natural ingredient and has been around and used for centuries. Pure cane sugar enriches all types of baking, just as these baked products enrich people’s lives.”

That’s it! Our Cupcakes for Haiti bake sale was a vehicle to enrich the lives of our Haitian neighbours. But how would we get the money we raised to the people who needed it most?

My husband, Top Drawer Creative Inc. vice-president Brian Gahan, and I have been supporters of Doctors Without Borders’ work for more than a decade. In 1998, Brian had the opportunity to join a Doctors Without Borders mission in Ethiopia as a pro bono photographer. He saw the incredible work the doctors, nurses and medical staff provide in spite of imperfect working conditions and surroundings. Given our family’s personal experience with this organization’s work, we decided it would be the charity of choice for our fundraising effort.

Now that I had family and community support, and a charity to focus on, it boiled down to logistics such as time and venue, advertising, product supply, and, of course, meeting our fundraising goal (I was secretly hoping for $5,000).

Given our desire to act fast, we decided to hold Cupcakes for Haiti on Jan. 23, which meant we had nine days to enlist bakers and advertise.

By Thursday, Jan. 21, I had approximately 25 e-mails confirming types of cupcakes to be baked for the sale and delivered to my home early Friday morning or at some point during the four-hour fundraising event. It’s one thing to receive e-mail confirmation, but quite another to see the actual baked goods. All I could do was trust my friends, believe in our collective process of being called to action and, of course, prepare a big batch of my Very Vanilla Cupcakes, just in case a few bakers were no-shows or had baking disasters.

We also had to deal with packaging. The first professional baker I contacted about this was Dufflet Pastries in Toronto. Unfortunately Dufflet was already overcommitted for the weekend of our cupcake sale; after they graciously declined I wondered how they could still be involved, so I called back and asked them if they would put me in touch with their box supplier, Irfan Rajabali of E.B. Box Company. After only a very brief interview, he got behind what we were doing and offered to donate 100 individual cupcake boxes.

The next step was a poster for advertising the event around the neighbourhood, so I called Top Drawer Creative Inc. art director Rachael Muir and asked her to help. Within about 20 minutes, she e-mailed the finished poster. I took it to a print shop and made 500 copies, but the next day one of our kids woke up sick, and for a brief moment I was stuck. When I asked my husband, “How are we going to advertise if I can’t walk around and poster the neighbourhood?” he responded, “Go viral.”

He told me to change my Facebook profile page to the poster, and to ask all my friends to do the same, and then to do the same with all my social media networks: Twitter, LinkedIn and my blog. By Jan. 21 the message had reached the Toronto Star’s parenting website editor, Brandie Weikle. Brandie tweeted about our event, and included it in her weekend events section.

Fast forward to the morning of Jan. 23. We got to work taking tables out to our front lawn, blowing up balloons, making posters and brewing fresh coffee, and by 8 a.m. cupcakes began to arrive. At 9 a.m. on the dot we were greeting even more bakers, and selling our first batch of cupcakes to our son’s schoolmates. By tear-down time, 1 p.m., we still had a steady stream of sales, and a neighbour decided to dart home and bake yet another batch of cupcakes! By 10 p.m., a bidding war that had started over a box of 16 Desmond and Beatrice cupcakes was capped at $9,000! The philanthropists who joined pocketbooks are members of Les Domestiques, a group of cyclists who serve their communities. One of the members asked that $5,000 of the $9,000 be shared with the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA International).

In total, Cupcakes for Haiti raised more than $12,000.

Now, we’re busy producing a cookbook containing all the recipes from the goods sold that day, plus some from the likes of Dufflet Pastries and Lynn Crawford. Our call to action has allowed us to work with many generous supporters, including Top Drawer Creative Inc., which will cover the entire cost of the book’s photography, design and artwork; Stohn Hay Cafazzo Dembroski Richmond LLP, which will cover the cost of our legal fees; and the Interprovincial Group, our printer, which will cover the cost of producing 1,000 copies of the book.

People ask me, “What’s the secret of your event’s success?” I say that there is no secret; it’s 100 per cent pure collective effort – and lots of natural sweetness.

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