It wasn’t an ordinary Sunday for Neysa Mendes, the Mumbai-based baker who makes rich dark chocolate tarts on order. On 25 April, as the second wave of the novel coronavirus gripped India, Mendes started a fund-raiser for covid-19 relief by pledging money from the sale of 10 tarts. She made the announcement on her Instagram page @goodslice with the hashtag #BakeForIndia.
They sold out within an hour. The proceeds from this sale, ₹30,000, were donated to the NGO Hemkunt Foundation, which is providing food and oxygen to those in need.
“It was a time of anger and despair. I wanted to do something that’s purpose-driven,” she says. Mendes was motivated to go beyond a personal fund-raiser. Along with an image of her photogenic tart on her Instagram account, she welcomed chefs to pledge at least 10 baked items to raise money for immediate relief. They were free to pick an organisation working to supply oxygen, food or any other relief related to covid-19. Within a few hours, several small businesses contacted her. They wanted to replicate her fund-raiser model with whatever they could offer—cakes, cookies, brownies, pasta, dessert jars.
The social media initiative took off with bakers from Mumbai. Marina Balakrishna of the delivery kitchen Oottupura pledged 10 plum cakes and raised ₹18,000. Saachi Pasari, a 12-year-old home baker, pledged 100 cakes and raised more than ₹1.5 lakh. Mansi Jasani, founder of the cheesemonger The Cheese Collective, pledged 18 portions of their four cheese rigati and raised ₹10,000. She contributed an additional ₹10,000 to match the amount raised from sales.
#BakeForIndia made home bakers realise that every cake counts. For while owners of these small food businesses have made personal donations, the thought of being able to contribute with a craft, using their skill and creativity, is a fulfilling one.
“#BakeForIndia might seem like an initiative now but it could grow into a movement,” says Jasani. Although she completed one fund-raiser in April, she introduced treat boxes, at ₹1,500 each, on 7 May. This time, she collaborated with brands like Mason and Co. and Mumbai’s Magazine Street Kitchen. She says, “If possible, I want to do something almost every weekend in May.”
#BakeForIndia has now travelled beyond Mumbai. Chefs from metros like Pune and Chennai, as well as smaller cities such as Visakhapatnam and Panchkula, have contacted Mendes. “You know what’s amazing? It’s collective action,” she says.
“A lot of people want to gift cakes,” says Melanie Andrade of Fat Cat’s Cafe in Pune, Maharashtra. Her rich salted caramel cakes helped raise ₹10,000. “In a situation like this, one is just stuck feeling helpless, although both my husband and I have donated personally. When Neysa posted about it, I had to join in. It was a way to involve our café,” she says.
Transparency has helped too. Mendes meticulously maintains a Google sheet with details like brand names, the donation amount and the organisations that received the funds. The link is available for all to see in the bio of @GoodSlice, Instagram. Along with the Hemkunt Foundation, the list of NGOs includes Khaana Chahiye, Milaap and Give India.
Joining #BakeForIndia is a simple process. Mail Mendes, who will share a set of basic guidelines. These include donating 100% of the proceeds of more than 10 units of the baked dish towards a registered charity working for covid-19 relief in India and sharing the donation receipt with Mendes to close the loop. By the weekend, #BakeForIndia had raised close to ₹10 lakh for covid-19 relief. “I am so happy it has picked up,” says Mendes.
Her joy is palpable even on the phone. Suddenly, there’s silence, then an apology. “Sorry, I got distracted. I just got a donation receipt that says ₹50,000.”