I bake, you bake, Wee Bake!

article by Nadia Heyd, originally published in Aug 2019 issue of The Bluffs Monitor – with thanks to The Bluffs Monitor team!

East Scarborough Storefront is proud to know local resident, Lolita Richards.  Lolita fell in love with baking at the age of eight when she was given an Easy Bake Oven. Her passion for baking led her to George Brown College, where she graduated from the Baking and Pastry Arts Course. Combining her entrepreneurial spirit with determination, perseverance and the support of family and friends, Lolita began her first business venture in 2013: Made By Moi Desserts

Not only is Lolita an amazing baker, she is an amazingly community-minded baker! For one thing, Lolita baked and decorated 100 cake pops to give away at The Storefront’s Giving Tuesday event last fall at the Guildwood GO station, helping us raise awareness for our work and the work of some of our partners, The Reading Partnership and 5n2 Kitchens. But we’ve known Lolita to contribute to community long before then.  

In early 2017, Lolita applied for funding from ArtReach, an organization that “aims to increase meaningful youth engagement of Toronto youth (13-29), who have experienced and/or are experiencing exclusion from quality arts opportunities.” She successfully got the grant to run Wee Bake, a 9-week summer program serving youth in the West Hill area, and ran the program at The Storefront’s Eco Food Hub.  Thanks to the Art Reach funding and the free use of The Storefront’s Eco Food Hub, there was no cost to the participants or their families to participate.

That summer, Wee Bake welcomed 10 aspiring young bakers (ages 13-17).  Art Reach funded Wee Bake again in 2018, growing to 20 bakers, and in 2019 there are just over 25 participants ages 12-17.  In addition to learning basic baking and pastry art skills, Wee Bake uses baking as a fun way for young people to develop skills in numeracy and basic financial literacy. All youth who complete the program also take home their own set of baking supplies.

I asked Lolita what was the spark that compelled her to bring Wee Bake to young people in the community. She said, “I grew up in the area, and I remember the free programming that I attended growing up, and how it helped shaped me into the individual I am today. Really, I acted on a strong desire to give back to my community.” 

After that first year, what kept Lolita running the program was that she was was inspired by the kids, and excited by their experience of the program.  One of the young people had been making a number of cakes – for her friends and family – on her own time and with her own supplies. “This young person told me that Wee Bake inspired her to pursue baking as a career,” said Richards, “and that made me feel great!”  Another example of personal growth comes from one student who didn’t take things too seriously. Over the course of the program, this student grew tremendously in her level of professionalism and produced some really gorgeous cakes!  

Lolita also derives a lot of satisfaction from the fact that the Wee Bake program provides volunteer hours for youth, and the baking experiences have helped a few young people get their very first jobs!  Youth earn volunteer hours through actively participating in the program, and assisting with tasks like gathering ingredients, taking attendance, facilitating downtime activities and clean-up. 

Looking to the future, Lolita’s goal for Wee Bake is to get it into schools and operating on a more permanent basis. “I think it’s important to expose students to many different forms of art, self-expression and career options. Baking can be all of those things.” Lolita will be looking for funding to keep Wee Bake going into the future!

Lolita says the value of using The Storefront’s space, the Eco Food Hub, is that it is a large, commercial-grade space that can accommodate a sizeable group of young people.  Finding a no-cost space like the Eco Food Hub right in the neighbourhood ensures that limited grant dollars can be used to cover supplies to make the program a really high quality arts opportunity, which is not something a lot of families living in our community can afford.  Another huge plus is that The Storefront is well known by and welcoming towards young people – our community’s youth feel comfortable and want to spend time here.

The Storefront is so glad that Lolita and the Wee Bake Youth were back in our Eco-Hub Kitchen this summer. 

You can see more photos of Wee Bake in action at The Bluffs Monitor Photo page for July (please scroll down to 15/07/19).

You can help make it possible for community building initiatives like Wee Bake to keep happening at The Storefront by making a donation at  www.thestorefront.org/donate

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