imagine you baked a cake and it changed a life

This story is a bit longer than what I usually blog on charityspam, so grab a cup of tea, sit down and enjoy this inspiring story beautifully told by my friend Danielle Crismani from #bakedrelief, published with her blessings x

daniellecrismani“You are sitting in your lounge room, watching tv, you can smell the roast cooking, the rain is bucketing down and has been for a while now, you feel totally safe in your home. Your walls are lined with family photos and the kids are playing with their cars down the hall way. You can hear the rain hitting the tin roof and you love that sound. Then, all that you have ever known is ripped from you.

Within hours, you are rescued from the roof of your home, you are cold, wet, it is dark and you and your children are terrified, all you have ever known has been swept away, you don’t have a home, you don’t know where your animals are, you don’t know if your neighbours, friends, family are alive and there is a very real chance they aren’t.

This isn’t make believe. This was the reality for so many families a few years back when the flood hit the Lockyer Valley with such fierce, wide spread and complete destruction.

So today I’m going to share a little of my story and the baked relief story.  I am going to share with you some stories which will show the beauty of Queenlanders. Im going to share with you stories so beautiful at times it has taken my breath away, brought a lump in my throat and tears which have fallen not from sadness but like a warm hug of human kindness.

Now, on a day in Jan 2011 I had dropped my two eldest children at my mum and step dad’s farm in the Lockyer Valley. They were staying there a week during the school holidays. It ended up being more than three weeks before I would see them again.

It rained heavily and driving home in that was horrific and scary. Mum was due to go to the shops the next day to restock her food supply for the week. She never made it. They were stuck as the waters rose suddenly.

The next day the Brisbane CBD was evacuated.. With nothing else to do but watch TV and see what was unfolding in SEQ, I worried. Especially the scenes which were unfolding in the Lockyer Valley where my mum and my children were.

Lots of Brisbane people swung into sandbagging action.

My boys were stuck in with my mum I was worried about them but there was nothing I could do. I knew they would be safe in the farm house but for sure there would be destruction to the farm. I needed to keep busy.

I wanted to help but I was fairly unfit and I will only run if it’s a life or death situation, or more recently if my two year old Louie has escaped my grasp and is running through a carpark.  But I know I can bake. So I thought of all those hungry sandbagging tummies and I baked a batch up lemon muffins and took them down to my SES.

Then using social media I told others to do the same.

Little did I know the explosion that would happen.

And as quickly as I am telling you this, the hashtag was born #bakedrelief.

When I arrived at my local SES the next night the table was full and a bewildered elderly SES volunteer looked at me puzzled and said “I don’t know where all this food is coming from but a young girl came in with 200 cupcakes a told us that she got her mum to drive here down here because she saw something on the computer called baked relief. What is this? Where is it coming from?” I did my best at explaining it and she said with tears in her eyes “in all the decades I have been doing this, never have I seen so much support from the community.” I knew then we were onto something.

How easy was it to show people we care, just a little bit?

As I shared these stories on my blog other bloggers caught on and world spread. QUICKLY.

 In January 2011 there were no exact phrase google searches for #BakedRelief, one word. Now there are more than 10,000.

Twitter was going gangbusters too. Trending at #2 in Australia. # 1 was qldfloods

Why was it exploding? It was exploding because this was a real, direct and simple way of providing support. …………with food.

After the flood waters receded and the clean up volunteers hit the streets to clean out the homes, we continued. Supply and demand. Both were there. We worked 20 hours a day coordinating the supply of food around Brisbane.

More than 55,000 volunteers registered to help clean up the streets of Brisbane, with thousands more unregistered volunteers wandering the muddy streets with gumboots and mops, these were called the “mud army” they didnt worry about red tape….”

During the flood clean up I saw a news reporter ask a man who was cleaning a house “Do you know the people who live here?” His response “No, I don’t know them but it doesn’t matter, he’s my mate”  This guy was just getting in and doing the job. Without red tape.

A friend of mine Mark cleaned out an old man’s house and there was nothing more to do after a crew of 10 strippe the house. Mark asked the man if there was anything else he could do for him.

The old man said “Can you have a cup of tea with me?” That touched Mark and he did have a cup of tea and a chat with him. The community had enabled this man to reach out and for strangers to become friends over a cuppa and a chat.

Which brings me to a story of a lady June who had a pose of friends in a retirement village in Brisbane. June became involved with baked relief  and told all of her friends to get baking.  48 hours later we had hundreds of scones and cakes and muffins streaming out of this retirement village. When I went to collect them June told me that she didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t give as much to the big charities but she could bake. She said she felt helpless but what we were doing enabled her to help, to make a difference when she didn’t think she could.

Baked relief mantra is that they are not stay at home mums, they are chief executive domestic goddesses. They are not the elderly, they are mature aged domestic queens and they are not just teenagers, they are the motivated domestic princess of our time. Baked relief provides a movement motivating people who didn’t think they could contribute.

A couple of months later. And I received an email from Laura. Laura explained that their home in Brisbane had flooded and along with everything else, she lost all her recipes, all her mothers and grandmothers recipes, that she was a cooking teacher and always loved being around food. That her recipes were like a journal of her life. The ones she copied in her teenage years, her twenties, when she was first married. All gone. 

She asked if we had some generational family favourites we could pass onto her. We did that but I also gave her my brand new copy of Nigella Lawson’s current book aptly titled “Kitchen”.

She wrote to me not long after telling me that book had reignited her love of cooking and she had been reading it like a novel.

Bam! Cookbooks for cooks was born.

I would challenge others to donate a book or two from their collection at home that they no longer use.

And this is what happened.

1,000 brand new cookbooks from publishers around Australia.

1,000 books from those around Brisbane

Hundreds from rural, western Qld coordinated by Georgie Somerset and the QRWN.

So we started getting those books out to those who needed them and they were embraced. Give a cook book you don’t use to someone who has nothing. Pretty simple really!

We received a few emails from flood affected people requesting cookbooks. One email stands out. An email from a lady telling me her mother had lost all her cookbooks in the floods.. She told me all her books were from the 1960s and 1970s so it was unlikely they could be replaced but could we send some off to her.

But we did send them off to her. And a week later I received this email.

Danielle, I had to write to express my complete amazement of your help for my elderly mother and to tell you the most astonishing story. My mother had received a cookbook for her 50’th Birthday and it was so badly damaged in the floods, the pages could not be opened and it was full of mould. Mum would not throw it away because she said she would never be able to get it again. Well guess what? One of the books you sent mum was this exact book. The exact edition, the same print run. Can you believe it? Thank you to everyone involved in baked relief for brightening such a dark time for my mother.”

What a small action to change the life of another person! Donate a book you don’t use to someone who has nothing.

More flooding came the following year and people who had been affected earlier were now baking for people suffering . People returning that love they got, knowing what a difference a cake can make.

In Jan this year, three years after ¾ of the state was in flood 65% of the state is in drought which we all know now to be around 90% .

I received an email from Mrs Annabel Tully of Quilpie asking if there was anything baked relief could do for farmers in the drought. The baked relief team who met during the floods in 2011 who I call my Girl Mafia got together and brainstormed.

Together with QRWN we launched a Valentines Campaign to send #lovetothewest to the rural families suffering in the drought. We put out a press release asking city folk to bake goods that would travel well, a fruit cake or some anzac biscuits and attach a note of love and support for a farmer.  This was a chance for the community of south east Qld to send the love to our country cousins.

“This is no substitute for financial help or desperately needed rain. It won’t pay the bills, grow the hay or feed the cows. But it might nourish a farmer just for a minute, because they are important and they are hurting.”

We collected almost 3 tonnes of baked goods beautifully wrapped as gifts with notes of love and support for farmers. Notes which would touch your heart and move you to believe that a stranger loved a farmer enough to make time to bake and send them something.

Now Sally Gardiner was the driving force and in keeping us all sane during this project.

Girl guides, elderly ladies who couldn’t get out of their cars but called for Sally to come and collect their goods from the road, people who had grown up out west or had family in the country, people who had no connection to the bush  at all. But they all shared the one thing, they want to show those in the bush that they cared about the struggle of the drought and wanted to brighten their day.

bakedreliefWe were inundated. Or I should say Sally’s home was Baked Relief HQ and her house was FULL of baked goods. There were cakes and biscuits and notes and people streaming in and out and Sally’s husband was almost having a mental breakdown. I moved in with my kids and we co ordinated all the packing of 2 tones of baked goods that weekend.

We packed up every item all with love notes to a farming family attached. Notes which would move us to tears many times that weekend. Notes which would show us how much the city loved the bush. Notes which told farmer not to give up.

Pictures little grade one children had drawn about what a farm looks like and what a farmer means to them. I love this because it tells a story. The story of a teacher explaining to the kids what farmers do and what they provide. Educating these kids about our farming community.

bakedrelief picFarmers are important because yes… once in your life you need a doctor and lawyer a policeman and a preacher but every day three times a day we need a farmer. And those children know that now.

So many baked. There was Pat who was distraught that he normally soaks his fruit for 12 months for his fruit cakes, but this damn drought meant he had to pull the rum soaking fruit out after only three months. He wrote on his note with the cake “I hope you enjoy this cake as much as I did making it. I hope and pray that the angels’ share of the rum lost in transit comes back to you as rain drops many times over.”

Then we distributed 400 cakes and more than 9,000 biscuits around Western Qld to some of the same people who had donated cookbooks three years earlier. We used all resources on the ground who could help. We got mayors involved in the deliveries and neighbours and schools and on the mail run to remote farms. So how much did this cost? That first weekend we spent $22 on plastic containers. Everything else was donated. The community of people responded with everything we needed. Apart from valium which we really should have given to Sally’s husband. He was in charge of loading all the goods up onto the back of the ute and managed the transport out to St George.

We really were sending the love!

Imagine going to your letterbox and seeing a wrapped gift with an anonymous love note? Sounds a little freaky but that’s what happened.

And feedback started arriving…

Photos of farmers eating cake started appearing on the baked relief facebook page and notes about their mailbox treats.

Pat’s fruit cake made it to a home about 60km south of Mungalalla about 8 hours from Brisbane with the help of another QRWN member Annabel Brayley. at “West Leinster” about 60ks south of Mungalallaat “West Leinster” about 60ks south of Mungalalla

A mate of one of the farmers wrote to me privately to tell me that his mate had phoned him that day to tell him of the smoko kit he found in his mailbox and how thoughtful it was. He said this the was first time this guy had phoned him with good news in months.

It was most important that these baked treats weren’t feeding their tummies but feeding their hearts. We wanted the farming families to get a gift made with love and know the city cared. Each item had a hand written note, was wrapped with paper or ribbons and carried with them the best wishes from the city to the bush.

And these are all the places we have reports that Baked relief reached.

Who would have thought that baking that batch of muffins could lead to all of this? And what I say to people all the time now is bake a cake it could change a life! It changed mine.

We connected city people with city people during flood. We connected people from the bush to the city with cookbooks. We have connected people from the city to the bush with cakes and gifts of love.

When you give you can not underestimate what you will get in return.

In Proston in the South Burnett, population of 306 baked a car load full to send to the west. And the community spirit ignited in that small town was so profound that they have launched their own Baked Relief franchise where they are coorindating the baking, drop off and distribution within the community out to famers which need it. This isn’t just about sending the love, this became a project of benefiting those baking the love. We have baked relief franchises in Longreach, South Burnett, Townsville, Charleville and Emerald soon to come onboard spreading love to farmers.

Here is where I tell you a little more about me. I was not smart at school. I graduated with the second lowest grade you could get. I was married and became a mum at 19. I now have four children. I have suffered depression since I was 16. Post natal depression, antenatal depression and depression so badly at times I couldn’t work. The darkest time I’ve had was around 2009. I was drinking heavily, over medicating and it all got too much. I was hospitalised for almost a month. During my recovery I discovered a few things which would help me get through. Gratitude, sleep, being kind to myself but most of all the power of giving to others.

I realised that if you want to make a difference to your own life, start by making a difference to someone elses.

In other words I told myself. “Get off your bum, stop wallowing in your own self pity. Look around and see people struggling much worse than you and do something about it. Its going to make you feel better to give.” And guess what happened? I got better. I got off medication and I manage myself through it every day.

Depression doesn’t define me. It inspired me.

What I learned with starting baked relief is that it’s not because I am an amazing person or skilled talent. I was just prepared to try and make a difference and stood up to people who would say it couldn’t be done.. There were people who have said “how is a cake going to help?” But we proved them wrong.

What started as a batch of muffins to the SES grew to much more than what I could have ever imagined.

Since Baked Relief’s organic birth the direct giving network has helped more than 15,000 people during crisis with approximately 1,500 active bakers.

What baked relief provides is a service to those affected by natural disasters. Secondly it provides a previously untapped resource an avenue to help. And the pay it forward movement is in full swing.

If everyone in this room did one small thing for someone else in their community next week imagine the hope and joy you would see and feel.

On the table are recipe cards. This is the recipe for muffins I baked for the SES. It has simple ingredients, its easy. How about you bake a batch of muffins and share half of that batch with someone else?

What if all it took was to bake some muffins to build a better world for those around you?

No matter what your life is full of, surround yourself with people you want to support and the support and nurture you will gain will be your inspiration. Like my Girl Mafia.  Never underestimate the gift you receive when you give to others.

Charity begins at home.  We all know that means “You should take care of family and people close to you before you worry about helping others” But what If we all focus on teaching our kids to have generous hearts and social responsibility.  The world will be a better place – and of course the ONLY way to effectively teach anything is by example.

We can all be that example.

Now about that imaginary bottle I told you about. In my bottle is my day at Stonehenge, about 2 hours from Longreach. Meeting those farmers, spending time with the wonderful women I met on the Wild West trip. The laughs and tears and bonding. I am blessed to have delivered that last round of baked relief and shared the joy of giving.

Bakedrelief doesn’t belong to me, the tools and concept belong to the community.  Anyone can change a life today. Never get tired of doing little things for others. Small things can often mean the most.So I say to you…. Now imagine this…. “You are sitting in your lounge room, watching tv, you can smell the roast cooking, the rain is bucketing down somewhere else in Australia, there are murmers of drought, somewhere in our country. It may not be effecting you this time, directly, but it can.

It can affect you in ways you could never imagine, it could give you more than you will ever be able to articulate. A sense of contribution, purpose and generosity that money just can’t buy……. no-one can ever take that away from you. There is a sense of sharing that enriches the human spirit. Provides love to strangers and rebuilds lives.

Just imagine if you baked a cake and it changed a life.

Follow Baked Relief on facebook here


About charityspam

I love helping charities and not-for-profits. I am a fundraiser by day and a community do-gooder by night. I often get caught up in great charitable projects and fundraisers, of which I attempt to encourage (some call this spam) others to get involved - hence the name charityspam! My background is in corporate social responsibility and marketing, and I work as a fundraiser/consultant for Social Money Solutions ENJOY! Please subscribe and help spread the word!
This entry was posted in Children, Community, Flood relief, GIVING, KINDNESS, Pay it forward, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to imagine you baked a cake and it changed a life

  1. Pingback: Send love to the west this Valentine’s Day via #bakedrelief | charityspam

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