A Darien woman is making life a little sweeter for people in the area by combining her greatest passions: baking and volunteering.
Julie Stone has loved baking all of her life, but it wasn't until a few years ago that she realized she could put her skills to work by helping people. For her Christmas present in 2009, Stone's husband signed her up for cake-decorating classes at Wilton Homewares in Darien.
She enjoyed it so much that she brought the hobby home and decorated cakes, "but that got fattening pretty fast," Stone said. So she started baking cakes for other people—book clubs, Sweet 16 birthday parties and more.
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After one birthday party, the mother of the child donated $200 to the People's Resource Center, a food pantry and family services center with locations in Westmont and Wheaton. It's also a place where Stone volunteered regularly through her church, First United Methodist in Downers Grove.
"That’s when the light bulb went on," Stone said. "I wouldn’t have to set up a business, I could just do the fun part."
Since then, she's been baking personalized treats for people, including cakes, cookies, fresh bread and lots more, under the name "Cakes for a Cause." Instead of taking money, people write her a check made out to the People's Resource Center, and she donates the money to help the center.
Stone doesn't just donate her money, but also her time. She volunteers at the resource center on Thursdays and organized a group from her church to help. She also speaks to other groups in the community about what the resource center offers.
Anzelone said Stone accounts for about 10 percent of his food pantry budget at the Westmont location.
"That was a wonderful boost," said Hank Anzelone, the PRC food pantry director. "She’s like my greeter. She welcomes the people into the pantry. It’s a wonderful interaction that we like to take place. We want people to. Julie’s perfect it."
For Stone, it's fun—she loves volunteering her time and getting creative with the designs of her customs cakes and cookies that she learned at Wilton. She recently made a cake in the shape of a nearly full-size Blackhawks hockey stick, for example.
In her first year, she estimates she donated about $2,000, and doubled that the following year. So far in 2012 she's donated at least $5,500. Stone said she probably takes about five orders each week.
"It's growing leaps and bounds," she said. "I have people from Naperville calling that I've never met, and last week I got a call from Harris Bank in Chicago.
"I get to bake and it’s money for my cause. I love to see their face when they come pick up their cake. This is my ultimate thing. They’re always so kind and say it made their day, and that makes my day."
That's nothing compared to the faces of the children at a local group home for children. Stone has been baking birthday cakes for them and donates those for no charge.
"Our kids have had a lot of trauma. Some say this is the first birthday they’ve had," said Sheena Lee, who works with the group home. "She makes them really pretty, she personalizes them. We appreciate her so much. She’s fabulous."
Want to place an order with Stone? You can email her at email@example.com for a price quote. She said her prices are very competitive and that she offers a wide range of baked goods. She can also make vegan or gluten-free treats.