I’m met at the garden gate by the sweet fragrances of honeysuckle and jasmine. An exuberant beagle rushes across the lawn to meet me. “Have a seat,” Valerie Van Galder says, and as we sip coffee together in her outdoor oasis, you can almost hear her mind whirring. Her eyes twinkle, her voice is as bright as her kitchen is lively.
The conversation flows easily from one topic to another. I tell her a little bit about my memoir, CAN I GET A WITNESS? To our shared delight, I discover that her latest film project is based on our mutual friend Tonya Hurley’s hugely popular book, GHOST GIRL. We agree that it’s a good thing that YA projects are trending toward realistic plots with genuine, if sometimes troubled characters. As a matter of fact, I say, my friend Louise Gornall’s upcoming release, ROSE TAINTED SKIES, is about an agoraphobic who confronts her fears for the sake of a friendship. Val reaches for her phone, scrolls through her tweets. “ I think I just chatted with her this morning!” she says.
This is the way serendipity happens, time and time again. Our circumstances may be different, but good stories bring us together. And cake, we agree, because who doesn’t like cake?
It’s at this point that Val, a film producer who left a wildly successful career in Hollywood, reveals to me the backstory of her current involvement with Depressed Cake Shop. When her mother was first diagnosed with cancer, the news was devastating, as was the secret that eventually came to light. Turns out, her parents had shielded their children from the most troubling symptoms of an undisclosed bi-polar disorder. As Val’s mother got sicker, her father’s mental illness spiraled out of control. And when Val’s mother passed away, he went into a free-fall.
Frustrated by the gaping holes in America’s mental health care system, Val eventually left her job at Sony Pictures to attend her father’s needs. Out of that turmoil, there grew a deeper passion: to create a community of support for those who find themselves in similar situations.
Chances are high that you, or someone you know, have also been affected by mental illness or depression. It’s a dark, lingering cloud that hangs heavy on the shoulders. People speak of it in hushed tones, and though the pain is oftentimes greater than any one person can handle alone, few are brave enough to go public with their experiences. Until, that is, Depressed Cake Shop first came into being. And when, soon after, Val’s circumstances led her to get involved.
The concept originated with Emma Thomas, whose London-based Cakehead Loves serves as beneficiary to many important causes. It quickly became a global enterprise, with community-based roots. Here in the United States, neighborhood bakers design ghoulishly gray goodies. Anxiety Oreos, Misfortune Cookies, Miserable Macarons…Look in the display case: see anything you’d like?
Given creative license, local artists oftentimes donate visual art pieces to the cause.
Although the pop-ups are unique to the character of their communities, organizers must follow two basic rules: 1) Baked goods must be shrouded in grey frosting, a lighthearted way to represent the gloomy fog of depression. Hope is symbolized by bursts of flavor and pops of color, inside the sugary treats. 2) All proceeds must be donated to a mental health charity, such as National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
And as for the lucky customers, they get to have their cake and eat it, too. Here, an opportunity to share stories and offer encouragement. The sugar high is optional, but support is a constant, and there’s a place for everyone at the table.
It’s not a huge enterprise, but Depressed Cake Shop’s growth is happening in a healthy, organic way. That’s due, in no small part to the fact that Val’s optimism is contagious. She is the proverbial pastry box, chock-full of energy and goodness. When she posed by the product shelves in her cluttered office, I saw love, made visible. Hope, made manifest. “I want to keep it sweet,” Val tells me, and with a heart as big as hers, I can’t imagine it otherwise.
Interested in learning more about Depressed Cake Shop? Visit their website, join their Facebook Page, follow them on Twitter or send an email to: INFO@DEPRESSEDCAKESHOP.COM with the subject line “Mailing list.” Include your full name and email address so they can inform you about all the fun things they’ve planned.
And now for the GIVEAWAY! The prizes include one Depressed Cake Shop T-shirt, men’s large, and a Depressed Cake Shop necklace. To enter, just leave a comment on this blog.* If you share the link on Twitter, come back to tell me for another chance to win. Follow @depressedcake and @melodyeshore, and we’ll enter you again. Rafflecopter will choose the winning entry on Tuesday, May 26th at 12:00 a.m. Pacific. (NOTE: I’m having trouble posting the Rafflecopter widget, so please follow the GIVEAWAY link, in order to report your contest entries. Brownie points for the extra effort!) *Sorry—this contest is open only to residents of the United States, due to postage costs and regulations. I do hope you’ll leave a comment, though, in support of Depressed Cake Shop!
UPDATE 5/26/15: Congratulations to the following prize giveaway winners, chosen this morning by Rafflecopter:
Tere Carnes — Depressed Cake Shop necklace
Lindsay Erickson — Depressed Cake Shop T-shirt
I hope you enjoy your winnings, and that you’ll find a way to get involved.