A young girl in Georgia chose to use her Bat Mitzvah as an opportunity to combat the stigma around mental illness and raise funds for those in need. Devi Knapp tells the story of her daughter Sophie’s Depressed Cake Shop Bat Mitzvah.

I can’t stop smiling or yawning. Yesterday, my daughter, Sophie, hosted (okay, co-hosted with me) a Depressed Cake Shop Pop-Up Shop as a part of her Bat Mitzvah preparations. Many adolescent boys and girls in preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs organize, plan or volunteer in a social action project.

A Depressed Cake Pop-Up Shop, the purpose of which is to eradicate the stigma around mental illness and raise money for a local organization having to do with mental illness, is a big undertaking for adults. My twelve-year-old jumped in with both feet. Luckily for us, the Depressed Cake Shop has an on-line kit that provides guidance as well as form letters that Sophie could tailor to her specific needs to solicit donations.

Sophie’s first order of business was to identify a local organization as the beneficiary of her Pop-Up shop. Through friends she came to learn about the Georgia Parent Support Network (GPSN) which is dedicated to providing “support, education, and advocacy for children and their families with mental illness, emotional disturbances, and behavioral differences. ” Or as Sophie tells people, “it helps kids and families who can’t afford the mental health help they need.”

I encouraged her to share with bakers why she identified mental illness an important subject and why GPSN was where she wanted to give her fundraising efforts. The following is taken straight from her letter/e-mail which she used in soliciting for donations:

The reason I have chosen this project is because I feel it is important to educate people about mental illness. Two years ago, my mom was diagnosed with both depression and anxiety. I remember how hard it was for our family and how difficult it was for my mom to find the right doctors, therapists and treatments to help in her recovery. And the ones she found that were the right fit were often not very affordable. We were fortunate enough to have family that helped with both emotional and financial and logistical help which continues to allow my mom to work on managing her mental illness. Unfortunately, many people are not as lucky, whether it is with emotional or financial support. I want to try to help others the way others helped my family.

She found an incredible coffee shop, Crema Espresso Cafe, near our home in Dunwoody, Georgia. The owner was immediately on board. He encourages and supported us through the entire process.

Over the next several months, Sophie and I worked to drum up both volunteers as well as customers. I will admit that social media was instrumental in doing this, and my husband and I don’t allow our kids to have any of those accounts – so, that aspect fell to me. Sophie had no idea what to expect by way of baked goods or attendance. I was cautiously optimistic and extremely anxious.

With one week until the big day, we turned our efforts to the “ending the stigma” and education portion of our event. Sophie, with the help of her younger sister Lily, designed temporary tattoos to hand out to people at the event. The intent was to get people talking!

The informational portion that Sophie designed, with my assistance, is my favorite part of her entire project. She created a two-sided postcard giving tips (dos and don’ts) as well as important contact information (including the crisis text line and the suicide prevention hotline phone number) for immediate assistance. One side was for helping yourself and the other was how to help a friend in need. This postcard was for everyone, but the wording was targeted to young tweens and teens. I wish I had had these resources and tips 30 years ago.

Baked goods began coming in about a week before the actual Pop-Up Shop and our excitement was in full swing. Sophie, Lily, and I baked and decorated cookies of our own, and Sophie created Crumb-y Cake Jars inspired by Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes. These were her pièce de résistance. Saturday, we boxed and packaged and packed and printed “Thank you” posters (which we totally forgot to display during the actual event). Sophie went to sleep eager to find out if she would hit her goal of raising $750 to donate to GPSN.

The day of, Sophie and I wore matching Depressed Cake Shop T-shirts (thanks to Valerie Van Galder of DCS), making it the first and last time my daughter will ever be out in public looking like my twin. People at Crema immediately began asking about our event and we started to sell before we could even get the car empty. What a wonderful problem to have!

Several family friends appeared bearing gifts of baked goods, either homemade or picked up from donating bakeries. We were thrilled when they jumped into action helping us unpack, arrange, collect money, and organize. We didn’t stop for three and a half hours. Customers, most of whom we knew, but many we didn’t, streamed in. We sold delicious, mostly gray food (Depressed Cake Shop baked goods are gray-themed) and talked about mental illness, how important it is, how we need to keep this conversation going. Staff from GPSN came and they were in shock at the outpouring of encouragement and the sales which would benefit their organization.

The feeling was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people so happy to be talking about depression. People were throwing money at Sophie. She could see the impact she was making and talk with both teens and adults about her cause.

At the end of the day, we were beyond amazed and exhausted and grateful for the support and love of people around us. Especially considering the climate in our nation right now, we needed this. I think many who visited us did.

Sophie has raised over $1900, and the money is still coming in! I believe this has also helped to instill a love of volunteering (and eating baked goods) in my daughter. I couldn’t be more proud.

A word from Valerie Van Galder of Depressed Cake Shop:

There are several interpretations for the Hebrew word beshert, but the one I like best is this: “Beshert is something that has been shaped in a specific way, as if cut out by a pair of unseen scissors.”

Over the past few months my younger sister has been planning her son’s Bar Mitzvah. We talk about everything from the invitations to the bus between the synagogue and party, but mostly we talk about how much we wish our parents could be here to see this important milestone in Matthew’s life.

Several years ago, I became involved in the Depressed Cake Shop, a beautiful and simple concept. We are a group of volunteers who enable people around the world to pop up a branded cake shop to raise money and awareness for mental health. I run the website and all the social media. A few months ago, I received an email for a young girl named Sophie who wanted to pop up a shop to honor her mother as her Bat Mitzvah project, and the first thing that came to my mind was “beshert.”

While our parents are no longer here with us, and our father and mother spent their lives unable to be honest about the struggles my incredible father had with mental health issues, through the Depressed Cake Shop we could provide the tools for another mother and daughter to share this incredible journey together. We sent them a box of DCS goodies and then watched as they took this project on with love. I wept tears of joy as I saw their community rallying around them and knew that the unseen scissors that have shaped my life brought me to DCS for a very important reason. Cake is present at every celebration, and the Depressed Cake Shop provides a safe place to enjoy something sweet, but more importantly, to rip the lid off the stigma that keeps those who are suffering from getting the help they need and finding the community that is here to support them. Meet us at the Depressed Cake Shop. We are open 24/7 and always here for you.

Our next pop-ups:

Sunday, January 22nd in collaboration with This is My Brave. Depressed Cake Shop will be selling gray baked goods and Anxiety Blobs in the lobby.
Tickets for the show can be purchased here:  https://www.bfrb.org/find-help-support/events/event/29

Anyone who is interested can just visit the cake shop.

Depressed Cake Shop Santa Monica
3:00-7:00 p.m.
Moss Theatre
3131 Olympic Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Proceeds to be split between This is My Brave and The TLC Foundation

Saturday, January 28th.

Depressed Cake Shop Inland Empire
11:00-4:00 p.m.
The Orange Space
19 E Citrus Avenue, Suite 201
Redlands, CA 92374
All proceeds to NAMI San Bernardino Area


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