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A D.C.-Based Bake Sale for Black Lives Matter Has Mobilized Over 1,000 Cooks Worldwide

Bakers Against Racism asks professionals and home bakers to raise money for social justice organizations

A mala sundae from Emilie’s features honey custard, Sichuan chocolate, and condensed milk ice creams
Bakers Against Racism organizer Willa Pelini is known for her creative sundaes, like this mala-flavored rendition from Emilie’s.
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

Two of D.C.’s leading pastry chefs have started a fundraising initiative that will direct sales of confections from professionals and home bakers alike to organizations fighting systemic racism and injustice.

Bakers Against Racism comes from Paola Velez, a 2020 James Beard award finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year for her work at Kith/Kin, and Willa Pelini, who works at Emilie’s in Capitol Hill. The idea for the campaign started when Pelini asked if she could contribute a dessert to Doña Dona, Velez’s Dominican doughnut pop-up, and send proceeds to Black Lives Matter. Instead, the pair decided to create a model for a “worldwide virtual bake sale” that has drawn commitments from over 1,000 bakers in less than a week, including participants from England, Germany, India, and Australia.

At 2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, June 15, participating bakers will begin accepting orders for whatever goods they’re making. Since people from all around the world are involved, each of them are responsible for coordinating their own socially-distanced pickups or deliveries, through Saturday, June 20th. The hashtag #bakersagainstracism will group them together. All profits are supposed to be donated to local Black Lives Matter chapters or to other organizations supporting the movement’s efforts.

Paola Velez’s headshot
Paola Velez will sell a strawberry passion fruit buckle for Bakers Against Racism
Melissa Worthington
Willa Pelini headshot
Willa Pelini’s idea for an anti-racist bake sale has spread to more than 1,000 people
Martin Swift

Pelini, who drew attention at Emilie’s with a sweet and spicy mala sundae before the novel coronavirus pandemic led the restaurant to pivot to a casual takeout menu, will be selling three exclusive sundaes for the cause. Velez will be offering a passionfruit strawberry buckle alongside a piña colada cake from Kith/Kin pastry sous chef DeAndra Bailey and a banana bread loaf from head baker Nikkie Rodriguez.

The protest movement rising across the country following George Floyd’s death in police custody spurred Pelini to come up with a way she could use her culinary talent to support the black community.

“Education and donation on my part is all stuff I’ve been doing, and it’s all great, but it doesn’t relieve the physical need to channel my energy,” Pelini says. “I might only have $200 to donate, but if I put some sweat into it, I can turn that $200 into $1,000.”

The Kith/Kin pastry team of (from left) Paola Velez, DeAndra Bailey, and Nikkie Rodriguez will all contribute to Bakers Against Racism.
The Kith/Kin pastry team of (from left) Paola Velez, DeAndra Bailey, and Nikkie Rodriguez will all contribute to Bakers Against Racism.
Courtesy of Paola Velez

Velez, who is a vocal proponent for social justice on her social media channels, has already been collaborating with restaurateur Daniella Senior (Serenata, Colada Shop) for her doughnut pop-up, which donates to Ayuda, a local organization that provides legal, social, and language services to immigrants. Both Doña Dona and Bakers Against Racism started with Velez fielding direct messages from friends out of the blue.

“It seems that it’s been a trend of women in the industry reaching out to me and shaking me awake,” Velez says with a laugh. “Daniella did that when COVID started, and now Willa did this. It really shows how powerful women are in our industry.”

When Pelini presented the idea of using pastries to raise money for social justice groups, Velez sat with it, wondering how to make it as impactful as possible. As pastry chefs, both Velez and Pelini are skilled in extracting the maximum profit from minimal budgets. Velez wanted to apply those same principles to Bakers Against Racism while including as many people as possible.

“While we might be chefs in title, some of us are furloughed and not getting paid,” Velez says. “A lot of us have become home bakers because we’re unemployed. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from participating.”

Velez and Pelini have created a resource kit for participants that includes a packet to teach home bakers how to set pars (a strategy for inventory based on supply and demand projections), create prep schedules, account for allergens, and organize information for packaging, pickups, and promotion.

Chef Rob Rubba, who started the Scrappy’s bagel pop-up running out of Estadio, provides marketing graphics for Instagram. Bakers also get a list of suggested recipients for donations and instructions for participating in the virtual bake sale.

“There’s so many people who need our help,” Pelini says. “I’m going to try and wait until the last minute to pick [an organization to donate to] because everything’s changing so quickly.”

The campaign has created guidelines to sell 150 desserts at $8 a piece, yielding a $1,200 donation. But Pelini and Velez want home bakers to know that whatever they can contribute will be welcome. Their focus is on helping bakers around the world do what they can to amplify donations.

“We hope this is something we can come back to year after year because it shouldn’t just happen this year,” Velez says. “When we say, ‘Black lives matter,’ we shouldn’t just say it once. We should keep on shouting it from the rooftops until true, effective change happens. Until my life matters.”