- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

BOWING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - Lisa Ray and Patty McTighe didn’t realize that many children in Bowling Green have never had a birthday cake of their own until they started Celebration Cakes Ministry last fall.

“I guess I just took for granted that everybody has a birthday cake,” said Ray of Smiths Grove.

But the two friends discovered a great need in the community for low-income children to have cakes on their birthdays, so they began making cakes using the resources of their church, First Baptist Church.

“These kids, some of them are going through a hard time, and just one little thing like a cake can brighten their day, and that’s what makes it worth it,” Ray said.

The cake ministry started out with just Ray and McTighe but now has 20 volunteers who regularly meet at the church several times a week to decorate cakes. In less than a year, the group has made about 140 cakes. The ministry has received awards, including the Rookie Volunteer award from Volunteers in Action and the 2014 Emerging Nonprofit Organization of the Year from Western Kentucky University.

None of the volunteers had experience decorating cakes, but they learned techniques by watching videos online and just going through trial and error.

“No one is professional,” said McTighe of Bowling Green. “All the skills are self-taught. All you have to do is like to play with Play-Doh and make children happy.”

Cynthia Jones of Bowling Green works at First Baptist and began volunteering with the cake ministry after walking by as the group was working in the kitchen one day.

“They was having so much fun,” she said. “Once I started … I was hooked. It brings back childhood memories of playing with Play-Doh.”

She likes knowing that she’s helping make a child’s birthday brighter.

“I love it, because when I was a child … I can’t remember having a birthday party,” Jones said. “I just think even if kids cannot afford a cake, they deserve to have a cake they like.”

Most of the children are referred to the group by social workers, school family resource centers, the Family Enrichment Center and other organizations that work with children in need. They specialize each cake based on the child’s favorite flavor, color, characters or activities.

“We really are trying hard to make sure these kids are getting taken care of,” McTighe said.

Many families the Family Enrichment Center works with are low-income who couldn’t provide a cake for their children if not for the ministry, said Nickie Jones, executive director of the center.

“It’s just been such a blessing for our kids and our families,” she said. “These cakes are just awesome. They look like they’re specialty cakes.”

The children smile when they see a cake made just for them, Jones said.

“It means the world to them,” she said. “Their eyes light up. It makes them feel special.”

The volunteers aren’t usually there when the cake is delivered to the child, but they still know they’re making a difference. Social workers let them know how excited the children are to receive their cakes, and sometimes the children send thank you notes.

“Even if we just get one thank-you note for every 10 cakes, it just proves that what we’re doing means something,” Ray said.

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