Cake Kindness: Local bakery giving some high school seniors a sweet send-off

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All five phones at the Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop have been ringing off the hook. And the calls keep on coming. 

"It feels pretty good," said Robin Hanisch, laughing. "A little exhausting, but it feels pretty good."

"There's that phone again," smiled owner Bill Hanisch. "I hope it's hometown pride. Having knowledge that your community supports you."

This was no ordinary afternoon for the baking duo. They're on a mission: to make hundreds of high school graduation cakes, in a year changed by the pandemic. 

"It started with me having the crazy idea of supporting our seniors," Bill Hanisch said.

A 1998 graduate of Red Wing High School, he said this year's senior class has been doing without.

No games, no prom, no group graduation.

So, they set out to do something about it.

"The kids are losing some of the best experiences of their life," Bill said. "To be able to give them a little something that will make them happy and put a smile on their face."

Their plan: to give away 220 free personalized cakes, one to each graduating Red Wing senior.

You could say their philosophy is to "let them eat cake."

The project started as a way for Bill to support his alma mater.

But this is one idea that quickly got out of control, in a good way.

"It found its way on social media and definitely went from there," Bill said with a grin.

This week, Red Wing senior Brady Kafka was among those proudly celebrating a social distancing graduation.

He got a diploma and a personalized cake, and maybe a life lesson about giving.

"It's sparking a chain of kindness," the 18-year old said. "I think it's an amazing way for him to show his support for the community. One small gesture really changed a lot of seniors' years."

That chain of kindness began spreading to other towns.

More and more schools and parents flooded the bakery with calls.

"We went from just doing my hometown to now we're doing 12 towns or school districts," Bill said. "It's grown to a little over 700 cakes."

Seven hundred cakes.

The bakery had to start charging out-of-towners $15 for each 7-inch cake.

Enough to pay for ingredients and a four-person baking team.

"We're not out to make anything off of this," Bill explained. "It's just been amazing to be able to support this many kids."

He said parents, friends and even complete strangers were making donations.

Then, there's Amy Hildebrandt.

A 1997 graduate of Prescott High School, Hildebrandt is a successful event planner who wanted to pay it forward.

"I was raised in this community, and I just want to give back to them," she said.

So Hildebrandt donated $1,500 — enough to buy 100 cakes for the entire Prescott High School graduating class.

She's hoping to host a social distancing party for them at her venue sometime in the near future.

"Yeah, it's a lot of cake!" she chuckled. "It'll be hopefully a lot of smiles that day, I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to it."

Hanisch said he's grateful to be able to make the students' graduation a special time, despite concerns about COVID-19.

"They're obviously losing out on a lot of special memories right now," he said softly. "But hopefully, they see that their community wants to support them, and is going to create just as many memories for them going forward."