It’s hard to describe the power of a birthday cake.

Do you remember watching the flames of your birthday candles, then blowing out the candles with the best birthday wish you could imagine before eating the delicious, sugary treat? For many of our clients, the magic of a birthday cake is a rarity at best, and some may never have even had friends and family make them one.

That’s why Side by Side partners with Cake4Kids , a team of bakers who create and deliver custom birthday cakes to youth who would not otherwise have them. Our Real Alternatives, TAY Space, and Our Space clients have been enjoying these love-fueled creations for over two years now, and what a sweet tradition it is!
According to Side by Side Office Manger Dawn McLelland, the majority of the youth that come through these programs have never before had a birthday cake. “It’s hard to describe the impact these cakes have on our youth,” said McLelland. “They gasp when they see their cakes! It’s such a personalized gift. One youth was in tears because it was the first cake that was ever made for her and she was overwhelmed with happiness.”
TAY Space Program Director Laura Taylor agrees, “Most of our young people come from family situations such as group homes and foster care where birthdays are not a focus. They grew up with no acknowledgement of their birthday, let alone a special celebration. This is truly an awesome program!”

McLelland added that she has nothing but praise for the bakers, saying, “The network of volunteer bakers is amazing. I can tell the volunteer bakers are truly delivering love through their creations."

Alison Bakewell, Director of Operations at Cake4Kids and a volunteer baker herself, explained why the Cake4Kids bakers love what they do: “When I bake these cakes, I get to do something special for someone else. There’s someone out there who thought their birthday was just another day, or worse, there are negative associations with their birthday. We can turn that around for them. It makes the biggest difference to us as bakers.”
Cakes are made in any theme our youth can dream up. One youth had a cake that was all about cats. Another young man who loved music got a cake shaped like headphones. We have seen sports themes, cartoon characters, unicorns, and even a lipstick cake!  T he bakers seem to delight in the challenge of bringing a youth’s dreams to life in the form of a birthday cake.
One youth, who was vegan, was blown away by her cake. “To think that someone would make a cake special for me, with my dietary restrictions, was SO special!” After the first year, she knew how special the cake would be and that it would taste just as delicious as a non-vegan cake, so she invited her mother and her boyfriend, and made it into a party. “That’s what it’s all about,” said Taylor.

According to Bakewell, “Side by Side is just wonderful to work with. Our bakers know they will never meet the youth. They are doing this because they understand the power of a birthday cake to make a youth feel special. It’s their unique way of giving back and making a difference.”
 Many of our clients are from low-income families or former foster youth living on their own limited resources. Side by Side hopes to brighten our young people’s holiday season by ensuring that each has a present to unwrap. 

Want to help? The following businesses have generously offered to showcase our clients’ holiday wish lists – stop in during the indicated time frames to pick up a tag and fulfill one or more wishes!

51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera
Available 11/15 – 12/15

2257 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur
Available 12/5 – 12/24

645 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro
Available 11/15 – 12/15

* Please return the gifts by December 15 to ensure that we can get them to our clients in time.

Additionally, Side by Side clients will be represented in the Sonoma County Secret Santa program. Visit to see a list of participating Sonoma County businesses or “Adopt a Heart” online 11/1 – 12/24.

Also, clients from our Real Alternatives therapeutic housing program have their own Amazon Wish List . Available 11/11 – 12/11.

We are grateful to the Mill Valley Middle School, Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro, and Kids Bike Lane for privately supporting our holiday giving program.

Learn more at or contact Patty Lufrano at 415-457-3200 ext. 179 or .