(Photos: Depressed Cake Shop)
Valerie Van Galder was a successful film studio executive in Hollywood when she learned a devastating family secret. Her father had suffered from bi-polar disorder throughout his adult life and hidden it from his children in an attempt to protect them. Her mother helped him conceal the disease all those years, but when she passed away, the truth became very clear.
“After my mom’s death he had a psychotic break and I saw firsthand how frightening, confusing, and scary trying to get a loved one help is in America’s mental health system,” recalled Val Galder, who left her job at Sony Pictures to care for her father. “After everything I saw, I wanted to help people who were in the same situation as me and my family.”
Van Galder heard about a project called the Depressed Cake Shop and was intrigued. It’s not a traditional bakeshop; instead, it’s a roving bake sale to raise awareness about depression and mental health. All funds are donated to local charities. The project is the brainchild of Emma Thomas, aka Miss Cakehead, a public relations executive in London known for her wildly creative (and sometimes gory) baked goods and promotional events. Thomas organized the very first Depressed Cake Shop in London in 2013 as a way to bring attention to the disease, which she and several friends have struggled with over the years. Since then, dozens of Depressed Cake Shops have been organized around the globe, raising over $60,000 for different mental illness charities.
You won’t find layer cakes frosted with bright white buttercream, or cupcakes topped with pastel pink or baby blue icing at the Depressed Cake Shop. Everything is the color gray. The idea is to show how “depression is like a gray cloud over an otherwise sweet and beautiful world,” said Van Galder.
This Sunday, May 3, Van Galder is bringing the Depressed Cake Shop to Boston in collaboration with This Is My Brave, an organization seeking to remove the stigma of mental illness through storytelling. This Is My Brave The Show, taking place at the Footlight Club, will feature music, poetry, and more performed by those affected by the disease in some way. (Tickets are $20 and still available.) Van Galder will be reading an essay she wrote about her father, the man she describes as “brilliant and talented and funny and accomplished. His depression was only a part of who he was.”
Van Galder will be selling gray baked goods at the event, along with some local bakers and pastry makers, including Jennifer Eve of Sugar & Sky, Tania Schnapp Peterson at Patisserie on Newbury, I Dream of Jeanne Cakes, Frosted Moon Confections, and Katie LaBossiere Chocolate & Crafts. Patty Triplett West of Good Karmal will debut her Depressed Candy caramels on Sunday. It’s the fourth Depressed Cake Shop Van Galder has worked on. The first was in Los Angeles in 2013.
Check out Yahoo Food’s Pinterest board of gray baked goods to see how beautiful they can be.
It’s been a tough but rewarding journey for Van Galder, who is now a film producer. She’s happy to be putting her marketing expertise — and newfound baking skills — toward something so meaningful and potentially life changing. “There is a quote I love from Mother Teresa: ‘Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.’ I want to do my part to help people who are suffering, one gray cake a time.”
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