By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
Rachel Dochstader couldn't wait for Wyatt Smith of Fort Hood to see the cake she made for his fourth birthday.
Dochstader had spent hours baking the two-tiered vanilla cake, frosting it with buttercream icing, adding a layer of crushed vanilla wafers and topping the cake with yellow construction vehicles. The tan wafers made it look like the vehicles were sitting on sand.
"Wyatt is going to see the construction trucks and say, 'Mom, I want those,'" said Dochstader, smiling as she put the finishing touches on the cake. "His mom said to decorate the cake with anything that little boys like, such as cars, airplanes or trains. I really think he'll enjoy this."
Dochstader is a member of a group of area home cooks who volunteer with Free Cakes for Kids Killeen, an organization that makes free birthday cakes for families in need. About 70 volunteers participate in the venture, which began in January and has supplied more than 200 birthday cakes to area children.
Since March, Dochstader has baked 12 cakes for the group and decorated them with SpongeBob SquarePants, the Green Lantern, Hello Kitty, Michael Jordan and a tiki mask. The Killeen resident said she especially likes baking the cakes from last-minute requests by parents.
"If I don't have 900 things going on at the same time, I'm not happy," said Dochstader, who also baby-sits. "I'm the Mother Hen type who likes to help people. In a way, it's selfish on my part because I enjoy it and love to share my talent by baking cakes. It helps both me and them."
Copperas Cove resident Amy Wrightsman said she organized the group after moving here in October 2010 from Fort Lewis in Washington state. At the post, she was a volunteer for Free Cakes for Kids South Sound. When her husband was transferred to Fort Hood, she discovered there wasn't a chapter and started one.
"People who get the cakes think they are awesome," said Wrightsman. "They truly like them. And what's neat is that the child who gets one would only have had a present or a cake, but not both. Doing this refills my love bucket. I'm blessed with the gift of service, and this is definitely a high for me."
Time, ingredients donated
Volunteers who bake the cakes donate not only their time but the ingredients, which usually cost about $25. If purchased at the store, said Wrightman, the cakes could cost up to $50, which is the reason the crafted cakes only go to families who are in need - not those looking to score a free birthday cake.
Elizabeth Wenstrup of Killeen contacted the group to order a birthday cake for her
1-year-old daughter, Nynaeve Wenstrup. The child has epilepsy; medical bills have forced her father, Tony Wenstrup, to work two jobs. A cake for the girl's Dec. 6 birthday was a luxury the family couldn't afford.
"Any assistance this holiday season is very helpful," said Elizabeth Wenstrup. "We looked at little cakes at the grocery and they were $15 to $20. That would have been a couple of meals for us. I was very impressed with the cake we got and everyone loved it. This is my husband's first child, and it made his day, too."
Volunteer Denise Salazar of Killeen said she created Nynaeve's birthday cake - a two-tiered masterpiece composed of vanilla on the bottom and chocolate on top and covered with buttercream frosting. Olivia the Pig adorned the top of the cake. Salazar also baked a smash cake for the child to smash and eat.
"I was looking for a way to serve the community, and I saw this organization and thought what an awesome way to help out," said Salazar, who started baking cakes about a month ago.
Salazar said her involvement with the Wenstrup family also helped her because her 14-year-old son recently began having seizures. Salazar said the Wenstrups invited her to the daughter's party and told her about their child's seizures, which calmed her fears.
"It was fate that brought us together," said Salazar. "I was humbled that they would want to help me when they were in need themselves. I was trying to hold back the tears when I got in the car and told my son about the baby's epilepsy. He looked at me and said it was strange how things work out."
Cake for girl who had heart surgery
Fort Hood resident Samantha Swigart's family also benefited from a birthday cake baked by volunteer Jennifer Melby, who has provided cakes for eight families.
Dakota Swigart turned 5 years old on June 10 and received a colorful strawberry Tinkerbell cake. Two months before, she had surgery in connection with a hole in her heart.
During her recovery, when Dakota had to remain still and quiet in bed, the girl's father, Joseph Swigart, told her a story about how fairies meet at Fort Hood every year on June 10, which is the girl's birthday. Thanks to Melby, the story ended up on a cake.
"We had a long year," said Samantha Swigart. "We had a lot going on and getting a birthday cake like this took the pressure off us. It was nice to know that part of the birthday party was taken care of already for us. And Dakota was on cloud nine when she saw the cake. It really meant a lot to us."
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.
Want to donate?
Free Cakes for Kids Killeen is looking for donations of cake supplies, such as canned frosting, flour, sugar, powdered sugar and cake mixes.
The items can be taken to The Sweet Factory, 2201 W. Stan Schlueter Loop, Killeen, or Pinstripes Tattoo, 2522 E. U.S. Highway 190, Copperas Cove.
For more information, or to volunteer or request a cake, go to www.facebook.com/FreeCakesForKidsKilleen.