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Spreading smiles to sick and siblings, 1 cake at a time

Wednesday - 2/5/2014, 12:39pm  ET

Icing Smiles delivers cakes to children with critical or degenerative illnesses and their siblings in all 50 states. Violet, pictured, is the first child for whom Icing Smiles baked. (Courtesy Icing Smiles)
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WASHINGTON - Two years ago this May, 4-year-old Emma Baker of Germantown, Md., was diagnosed with Leukemia.

While receiving weekly treatments at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the head oncology nurse told the Bakers, who have five children, about a program that had the potential to bring a smile to Emma's face and the faces of her four siblings.

The recommended service wasn't an elaborate trip to Disney World or front row tickets to a big-name concert. It was much more simple: two birthday cakes for Emma's brothers.

"What a blessing it was for my husband and I knowing that our lives were going to be changed for a couple of years and it would really bless not only Emma, but her siblings, who also go through a lot with all of this," says Elizabeth Baker, Emma's mom.

The organization behind the birthday cakes was Icing Smiles, a national nonprofit based in Ellicott City, Md.

According to Founder and Executive Director Tracy Quisenberry, the mission of Icing Smiles is to provide custom celebration cakes, made from the organization's pool of 5,000 volunteer bakers, to children with critical or degenerative illnesses and their siblings throughout all 50 states.

Including siblings is one aspect of Icing Smiles that really helped the Bakers get through the emotional and time-consuming first months of treatment.

"There are a lot of things my children have had to sacrifice in terms of when something exciting is going to happen and Emma's in the hospital and it gets canceled," says Elizabeth, who explained Icing Smiles gave all of the kids, who are very close in age, something to look forward to.

When Quisenberry started Icing Smiles four years ago, the nonprofit served 45 children in its first year. All of that changed after a cake delivery to a little boy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York went viral.

"From that point forward, it's been a runaway train," Quisenberry says.

This past year, the organization served roughly 2,000 children and averaged 40 to 50 cakes a week.

"A lot of the cake decorators and sugar artists that have appeared on Food Network and done the challenges -- a significant number of them are volunteers of ours," Quisenberry says.

The funding to support Icing Smiles varies, Quisenberry says, and a lot of it comes from private donors and corporate sponsors, including Domino Foods. This weekend, the organization will host its largest event fundraiser, The Buttercream Ball, at the Historic Savage Mill in Savage, Md.

The evening will feature live entertainment, sugar sculpture demonstrations, a 21-foot dessert table, hors d'oeuvres and an open bar.

Since the two Icing Smiles cakes were made for Emma's brothers in 2012, the Bakers have used the nonprofit a number of times for Emma's birthday and the birthdays of her siblings.

The cakes don't just help lift the kids' spirits, they help time-strapped Elizabeth in an enormous way.

"When a birthday party comes, I know that one of the biggest time [constraints] is going to be the cake. And when I know that my children are going to receive a cake that's going to be 50 times better than mine, it's a tremendous blessing for me. It's something that I get to look forward to," she says.

Now, Emma is getting ready to celebrate her sixth birthday on Feb. 23 with a tea party-themed celebration. Naturally, she requested a tea-pot cake from one of her favorite bakers affiliated with Icing Smiles.

This year, Emma's party calls for more celebration than ever. For the last year, she has been on maintenance treatment, which requires her to go to the hospital once a month, on top of her daily chemo and steroid medications.

But hopefully, if all goes according to plan, her treatments will end this coming August.

"We take one day at a time," Elizabeth says.

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