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‘Cakes From Grace’ makes sick kids smile one cake at a time
In October 2012, Becky Hunt made a difficult decision: to quit her corporate job to care for her 2-month-old daughter, Gracia, who was born with a severe congenital heart defect.
Gracia, affectionately known as Gracie, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome -- a condition where the left ventricle of the heart does not develop properly, so the left side of the heart can’t pump blood to the rest of the body.
Gracie underwent open-heart surgery when she was just days old and by early October she was doing much better. However, Doctors told Becky and her husband Shawn that their newborn would have to undergo two more surgeries -- one at 4 months and one at 3 years of age -- to reconstruct the right side of her heart to compensate for the underdeveloped left side.
The Hunts were overjoyed to see their daughter’s condition improving and were expecting to have her home soon. Gracie would need around-the-clock care, so Becky resigned from her management position at Lifetime Fitness to be with her.
But Gracie soon experienced another setback and her hospital stay continued.
Just two weeks after resigning from her job, Becky received a call from the hospital at 3 a.m. informing her that her baby’s heart rate was dangerously slow. She recalls throwing on a sweatshirt before dashing out the door and driving to the hospital through a late-season thunderstorm. Doctors had determined that Gracie’s heart was not pumping at all. Gracie passed away at 4:55 a.m. on Oct. 23.
“We had her for 82 wonderful days, almost three months,” Becky says solemnly.
“I spent a lot of time praying and asking God: ‘What do you have planned for me?’” Becky recalls. “In early December  I started thinking of ways I could honor her.”
Later that month she started “Cakes From Grace Inc.,” a pending 501 (c) (3) organization in Gracie’s memory. Cakes From Grace provides free custom cakes for kids with heart defects, and also donates specialty cupcakes to local fundraisers raising awareness about congenital heart defects.
She says her work with Cakes From Grace has helped her through the healing process. It’s a way for her to escape, be creative and she says it’s been a form of therapy. “I imagined making so many cakes for Gracie throughout her life and through Cakes From Grace I get to do that while helping others.”
Becky has enjoyed baking for years. She is a self-taught baker and has decorated cakes as a hobby for over seven years.
“When she approached me with the idea I was all for it. I knew this was a passion of hers, Shawn says. “I knew through Cakes From Grace she would be able to achieve what she wanted by honoring Gracie and helping out the local heart community as well.”
Shawn created the Cakes From Grace website from scratch, including all of the graphics, and he continues to update the website, which features their story and the story of another family who has lost a child to a heart condition each month.
“I have no part in the baking, other than taste testing,” he says with a laugh. “Her recipees have been developed and perfected over the years.”
Becky makes all of her cakes and cupcakes from scratch and bakes them in the couples Lake Elmo home in a pair of convection ovens.
Her cakes are expertly decorated in bright colors and fun themes that brighten a child’s day, from Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street characters to “Hello Kitty,” butterflies and “Curious George.”
“We design and customize each cake to reflect the personality of each child receiving a cake,” Becky says.
She says simple things like a cake can be a luxury to a heart family short on time with mounting hospital bills, but are pretty special to kids who have gone through so much in their short lives battling a heart defect.
“It’s something like a cake that is so normal, something so small that can mean so much.”
Partnership with Gartner Studios
This past August, Stillwater-based Gartner Studios -- a company that specializes in stationery, digital design and specialty food industries -- reached out to Cakes From Grace after CEO and founder Greg Gartner stumbled upon their website and was immediately touched.
“We’re very impressed with this outstanding organization and their mission, which touches families who have suffered this heartbreak,” Gartner says. “We’re proud to be a part of Gracie’s legacy, and look forward to supporting Cakes From Grace as they expand their outreach.”
Becky was elated when she got the phone call from Gartner last summer. They offered to donate kitchen items from their Duff Goldman line of products. She said they invited her to come down to Gartner and when she arrived they told her to go down the aisles and pick out whatever she wanted.
“I took four bags of pans and cake decorating stuff that first visit,” Becky says. “They let me shop for what I need when I need it. It’s a blessing.”
In addition to providing product donations to Cakes From Grace, Gartner Studios has plans to work alongside the organization to help spread awareness about congenital heart defects by using their large business network for outreach efforts.
According to Gartner, future plans include creating a showcase event to benefit the organization that ties in Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” star and food celebrity Duff Goldman and some of the best cake and pastry chefs in the region.
Plans for expansion
“I want this to be big. I’d really like to be known nationally,” Becky says. “My whole vision is to reach out to heart families across the country.”
She ramped up her efforts in early March, after taking some time off to care for the family’s new addition -- Emilia Grace, the couple’s second child. Becky gave birth to the healthy baby girl on Jan. 9.
She had several fundraising events planned, along with a kitchen full of cakes as this article went to press. She occasionally gets help in the kitchen from friends, but still manages to make most of the cakes and cupcakes on her own, for now.
Her goal this year is to reach out to heart families in other cities such as Duluth and Rochester and to find cake decorators interested in volunteering.
“The big picture is to have different cake decorators in every state.”
It’s a pragmatic plan after an attempt to mail a cake to a family in Boston.
“That didn’t work out so well,” she admits.
If you would like to volunteer, make a charitable contribution or know a family with a child that has a heart condition and would like a cake, visit the Cakes From Grace website www.cakesfromgrace.com.
Joshua Nielsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7822.