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Pay It Forward! With Violet Anna Lieby, Founder of the Giving Cake

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In this episode we dig into the concept of paying it forward. You’ll hear the story of Henry Darby, a high school principal in South Carolina, who took a part-time graveyard shift at Walmart, so he could pay his salary forward to students in need.

We bring home the pay-it-forward concept as we tell the sweet story of The Giving Cake, a cupcake company that donates 100% of their profits to community charities. Violet Anna Lieby describes how decorating cakes moved quickly from hobby to passion project and became a business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, launching in December 2020. The Giving Cake now delivers beautiful floral cupcake bouquets direct-to-consumers all over Santa Cruz County. Their customers even get to choose which charity their purchase will benefit every time they place an order. You’ll discover how to vote with your dollars and your time.

Resources discussed include a charity finder (linked below) so you can join us and pay-it-forward in your community by donating your unique skills and time to charities in need.

Resource Links: 

Henry Darby’s Story – Today Show Coverage:  Henry Darby’s Story – ABC7 and WCIV-TV Coverage:

The Giving Cake:

Find Charities To Support: 

Take Action: 

Support Care More. Be Better.

Care More. Be Better. is not backed by any company. We answer only to our collective conscience. As a listener, reader, and subscriber you are part of this pod and this community and we are honored to have your support. If you can, please help finance the show (link to our Patreon account). Your contribution will help us spread more social good, because together we can do so much more. We can Care More and Be Better. Thank you, now and always, for your support!


Corinna Bellizzi: Hello fellow do gooders and friends i’m your host, Corinna Bellizzi an activist and cause marketer who’s passionate about social good and sustainability. Today I want to start by telling you a little bit of a story.

This was reported on January 30 2021 so just the last weekend when i’m recording by ABC seven in North charleston South Carolina. Now I want to read the sub line of this article moved by a need to help his students a South Carolina high school principal took on a part time job at walmart. And donated his paycheck to those in need let’s think about that for a moment, a principal of a high school has started a false part time job. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back what propelled him into action Well he tells the story and i’ll share the link and comments to the show. In an interview on WCIV TV, he said a couple of years ago, I had to students who were females sleeping under the bridge. There was another situation where a former student of mine and her daughter were sleeping in their car and another situation where a former student needed funds for her water and light bills. His name is Henry darby and he’s been working at walmart for two years already three nights a week 10pm to 7am to help students in need. He’s paid that salary forward to help ensure his students don’t have to sleep under bridges or sleeping their cars that they have water flowing and the lights on.His selfless efforts went viral when his students found him working at walmart and started to share the story. And the result was an outpouring and donations from the Community nationwide over $100,000 has now been donated. Once His story went viral well guess what happened next. As soon as something like that happens, the big guys at walmart say I want a piece of this action to I need this positive press, so they donated $50,000 to his high school North Charleston high.

Now would walmart have done that, if it weren’t for the morality of the story, probably not in fact most assuredly not. Would Henry darby story have gone viral if he had not been a person of status from within his Community a principal maybe not.

But the reality is we need these types of efforts in order to go ahead and propel a discussion around these real problems should high school students be sleeping under an overpass or in their cars, just to try and get the education that they need to survive and thrive Absolutely not.

Now today I want you to think about that efforts, like those of Henry darby.

Whether it be a part time job to help those in need, or a new business with heart that seeks to build a better future, like the one i’ll introduce you to today. it’s an inspirational story of a hobby turned passion project that morphed into a pay it forward company.The giving cake makes beautiful floral cupcake bouquets and donates the proceeds to local charities in Santa Cruz county charities that have been hard hit by the coven pandemic if you’ve been with us since our trailer episode you’ve already heard that much, but today the learn a bit more i’m thrilled to be joined by the founder of the giving cake violet and ally be welcome violet.

Violet Anna: Thank you for having me.

Corinna Bellizzi: Now we’ve been friends, for a long time, maybe longer than I care to share and reveal this podcast.  So I see pretty much everything you post on social media, and when I first saw your cupcakes on Facebook, I thought, are those edible I mean they’re absolutely beautiful I also thought I had no idea, she could decorate cakes. So why don’t you start by telling us all of our listeners a little bit about this journey and how you went just from that you know hobby to passion project and now into a business.

Violet Anna: Sure, so the way it started was I always i’ve always loved to bake However, when it came to decorating cakes or anything like that they were horrible. And they tasted good, but it was the constant sliding apart cakes and poor frosting so I just decided that I wanted to learn how to do it better for my family and friends. And last March for my birthday I purchased some online classes for doing these buttercream flowers, it was just kind of a spur of the moment hey I wanted to learn how to do this, my it’s my birthday i’m just going to do it, so I took the classes and it turned out to be something I truly enjoyed to do so, I just started doing them and giving them to friends and such. And I became part of an online community of these buttercream bouquet cupcake flowers and a lot of them had taken this hobby to start selling them and I felt a little weird about selling you know cupcakes that I just like to make so I was hesitant to start a business at first. And then, as the pandemic rolled on and the social unrest that followed. I started to feel really just lost in how I could help make a any kind of difference which with what was going on, I did some volunteer work around coven and homelessness during the summer, but it just still didn’t feel like enough. Then I had my Aha moment which was if I start my business selling cupcakes I don’t have to do it for myself and that’s where the giving cake was born, I decided that I was going to start my business and donate all of the profits to local nonprofits and I started I believe the beginning of December, was when I officially launched and we’re we’re I mean going full steam now and I really.

Corinna Bellizzi: You know it’s gay the Community, we are definitely going full steam you know seen your cupcakes even at some of the local shops in our area, so I mean it’s obvious are forging partnerships with maybe even some bakeries.

Violet Anna: yeah there was a local store in scotts Valley, who has been forced to pivot with the you know, lack of retail walk in that has happened and we’ve started a wholesale partnership that I hope will continue throughout this next year.

Corinna Bellizzi: wow okay. Now I know when we last connected on this, I made a couple notes here, and this was in the midst of the holidays, shortly after your lunch you’d made something like 300 cakes from late November into December I think i’ve made maybe 48 my life, and they were seriously a hot mess like nowhere near is as beautiful as what you’re putting together and we will be sure to share a link to the giving cake, but you can also just go to the giving cake calm and take a look at these creations. So i’m curious to know, between now and then some time is past maybe the holiday frenzies over like Where are you in this journey and fitting this into your life as a full time worker who has a job and who also has mom life and is homeschooling her son, I mean, how are you making it all fit in.

Violet Anna CA: Well lucky, for me, I found something that I truly enjoy so making these cupcakes is you know I put on some classical music and just kind of Zen zone out I spend a lot of very late nights working on them, but it gives me so much joy to be creating these little beautiful cupcakes. And then you know the smile on my customers faces when they get them, you know it’s usually like the look of surprise when they actually get it and then, knowing that together we’re just helping even if in the tiniest bit ago, not for profits are really struggling right now, because they’re not able to have their big fundraising events and such and so being able to help a little bit or get the names out of some of these lesser known not for not for profits that are dear to me or that I have found out about through our through the Facebook Community when I put a call out to people saying hey you know who who should benefit from these cupcakes.

Corinna Bellizzi: Right now, I know, one of those that came out of that discussion was Casa, which is the Court appointed special advocate, but then also. I think you’re particularly passionate about the one around farmworker families, so why don’t you talk for a bit about that, and you know what you’ve been able to do this far with them.

Violet Anna: Yeah, I learned about them late last year and they’re an organization that offers that’s the Center for farm worker families. And they I live in Watsonville and that’s where my home business is based so i’m surrounded by ag here and the Community, you know that I shop with in the grocery stores or see you know at the other retail locations and Watson bill, you know it’s very heavily influenced by the people that work in ag and  they the services that are needed to help these families navigate living here navigate just trying to get the support that they need, and sometimes they’re under represented under privileged and they I feel like that one helps me directly impact my local community. But again, when an order is placed online the customer is able to choose of the 10 nonprofits that they want to support so it’s not just me picking out the random not for profit that gets the profits, but each customer gets to choose where their money goes.

Corinna Bellizzi: yeah I love that it reminded me of early days in the natural channel shopping and stuff of life, and they have that box out front. This is a local grocery store here and natural independent retailer, and in a box, where you could choose to support specific charities that are local to the region from surfrider foundation to probably even some of these that you are now selecting. I just think that’s beautiful Now I do think that people are going to be really curious about how you launch this in the middle of the pandemic, I mean you’re baking these cakes in your home forcibly having to arrange deliveries in some way, so what was that, like and how did you navigate that.

Violet Anna: Well, so my first step was to I have a business and marketing background, so I knew I wanted to do this right like I knew I didn’t want this to just be some splash thing I tried and then have it not succeed, so I sat down and, as I was practicing making cupcakes I did my time studies and I. Looked at my you know ingredient costs, I filed to get my food, health permit with the city, I took the mandatory food safety classes, so that I could do everything by the book I set up my business as an llc and by doing all of this, I was really able to get my exact pricing, so that I could you know charge what I needed to cover costs, but then also knew exactly what sort of profit was going to come out of that that I could be able to donate. So I know precisely. You know per bouquet what part I can donate.

Corinna Bellizzi: So i’m curious because you know many social entrepreneurs come at these business problems and they say okay i’m going to donate 5% of my profits are going to donate 10% my profits are up and it’s just 1%. So, how did you come to that decision, and you know what is your plan long term like are you ever going to pay yourself for this, if you were able to go let’s say full time and a commercial kitchen.

Violet Anna CA: So again I started this because I needed to help it was a I was raised in. A family that understood that supporting our Community was paramount, I did you know volunteer efforts growing up, it was just something that was instilled in me by my parents. And so you know just sitting around feeling like Oh, I wish there was something I could do it was like there is something I can do. As far as growth and having this be my real job, one day, that would be amazing If I could just be in my kitchen and make cupcakes all day. But that will take Growth so right now yeah it’s a passion project, but if things pick up and i’m able to you know buy ingredients on a bulk higher scale that will reduce my costs. If, you know all of those things you know business 101 and but that’s not really my focus my focus is to be able to help as much as I can yeah and i’ll probably i’ll probably just continue to work and have my staying up until 3am decorating now that’ll just be that, I mean it’s my it’s like there are people sleeping on the streets, there are children that needs support in these. With Casa you know there’s I am so fortunate to be able to do this so that is more important than me collecting a paycheck from you know. The profits from the cupcakes.

Corinna Bellizzi: So i’m going to bring it back to Henry darby for a minute, and what he’s doing and carolinas right he actually. You should watch the video it’s so sweet he sits there, and he basically says Well now, that all this money has come in from the Community and walmart he’s like. I don’t feel right about stopping i’m still doing it for the same reason and he’s giving up three days a week, where he works graveyard which means he’s up all day working for school and then up all night working for walmart to pay forward his paycheck it’s it’s the same sentiment is what i’m getting at, and I think it’s just so lovely to see that kind of living in this time. Now, given that you are paying forward all the prophets. How are you measuring the success of your business today and are there, particular goals like specific goals that you’re trying to reach.

Violet Anna: As far as you know how do I know. If i’m being successful or not. I guess that’s just if my heart is happy. I feel like i’m doing the best that I can. I know I could do better marketing myself, and I know I can do better doing those kind of things like you know always always the marketers and you know web designers that have the worst sites worst marketing just because I I spend my time making cupcakes and not on social media but, gosh I would love to be able to donate you know hundreds of dollars a month to these nonprofits, and that is just going to be scale and I do need to find a better balance of getting the word out there about the giving cake and making cupcakes um it’s I I have faith that it’s, that i’m doing the right thing and that things will organically happen as they will.

Corinna Bellizzi: Well, I know, as a result of this, and ultimately your other efforts and PR the little bits and pieces you’re able to get along the way, I think, more people will be coming to you for cupcakes maybe from outside the area so maybe if we can figure out how to ship those beautiful creations without having their frosting get completely smashed (you know that could be the next phase), but for people that are listening that aren’t able to be reached, specifically by your business and well for anyone who is unlike me that doesn’t like sweets, because I know there are plenty of those two they might like salty treats instead. What three things can they do to push forward social good and social change in their communities, what would you recommend given your experience also you know donating your time and efforts.

Violet Anna: I mean really you just nailed it right there donate your time, you know, everybody has a skill and whether that’s offering admin support for a not for profit, if that’s actively volunteering physically somewhere there’s just getting involved, you know finding out how you can help there’s a lot of great resources through volunteer Center and they have you know, or they have locations in Santa Cruz county and in San Jose so people could really, you know, find out where the greatest needs are and through their i’ve seen you know, they need a webmaster they need somebody to answer phones, you know so there’s all sorts of different skill levels that you can start with and I think that’s just the main one is become aware of what is needed around you and find the not for profit that speaks to you there’s plenty out there, that you know anything from. There’s just such a large Vast listing of different not for profits that you know you can choose the one that really speaks to you.

Corinna Bellizzi: yeah or in your case, maybe create your own endeavor right yeah so i’m curious just given the research that you’ve done in the 10 not for profits you’ve selected do you have any idea how many not for profits are in Santa Cruz county.

Violet Anna: No.

Corinna Bellizzi: I have no idea either.

Violet Anna:  yeah there’s there’s a website where you can go look up the not for profits in your area and there’s just there’s just so many an example would be you know are my son’s soccer team or soccer League is a not for profit, so, even if you went and you know volunteered to try and recruit players or, You know, and right now they’re not playing so but there’s still bills and stuff that are need to be paid so, is it you know, trying to sell merchandise, or whatever it is that there’s you know, again, there is a not for profit that will speak to you, you just need to find it.

Corinna Bellizzi: yeah what is that website resource and if you don’t know now I can just follow up later and we’ll put it in show notes.

Violet Anna: yeah that I off the top of my head, I do not know.

Corinna Bellizzi: you’re not an encyclopedia?

Violet Anna: I could Google it, but then you would hear me typing in.

Corinna Bellizzi: Right Okay, not the point. Anyway, I just want to applaud your efforts so far I had my two bouquets right around Christmas. I know I had intended to get them a Thanksgiving and I think I was going to be among your first customers.  But then my whole household got really sick and nobody was going to enjoy cupcakes, so I will say that the holiday bouquets you put together. With poinsettias and all sorts of different colors were just gorgeous and i’m looking forward to seeing your next creation, I will put a little vote in that hat for something in the succulent arena, because I think those are seeing some of those now and i’m like “succulent cupcakes I have just the person I need to buy these for” so i’m sure you’ll take ideas and continue creating something great from what you’re doing so I want to again direct people who are interested in seeing what violet anna’s doing to go to THEGIVINGCAKE.COM. It might just be the inspiration, you need to move your passion project and to central frame frame. There’s also several not for profits there, and you can use that as an idea of who you might reach out to and, in many cases, since these are Community based there are likely. Community based charities in your arena that have many of the same needs served now as we close the show, I want to invite you all to take action. 

You don’t have to be like Henry Darby and take on a second job at walmart, no less. It doesn’t have to be huge. But perhaps you need to order some cupcakes for a cause through The Giving Cake, or maybe a piece of art from Love Without Borders For Refugees in Need. You’ll feel good, knowing that your purchase benefited those in need, or maybe you just need to call your local Congress person. Make your voice heard, to find suggestions like these visit our website care more be better calm there, you will find an action page. That links to really great companies and causes we encourage you to support, including that that we just talked about today, the giving kick. And I invite all of you to join the conversation and be a part of the Community we’re building here, you can follow us on social spaces at care more be better. And you can even connect with us directly by sending an email to or by visiting our website. There you can send us an email directly from the site or sign up for a newsletter to be the first to receive any news related to this podcast. Thank you listeners for being a part of this pod and this journey because, together, we can do so much more.

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