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Omaha Magazine

Baked With Love for Micah House

May 27, 2021 04:03PM ● By Dawn Gonzales
robin kern holds small cakes

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Quotes about love and food are plentiful. “Cooking is love made visible.” “The secret ingredient is always love.” “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” “Baking is an act of love.” And when the food is homemade, nothing can compare. It does not matter who someone is or where they come from, a dessert made by someone who cares usually tastes better than any store-bought treat. 

Robin Kern understands this as anyone who bakes does. She was 11 or 12 years old when she started baking. Her mom and grandmother were bakers and Kern learned many skills from them that she has passed on to her own daughter. A family favorite is the Salted Caramel Cappuccino Cheesecake from a Taste of Home magazine that she makes a couple of times a year for birthdays and other celebrations, and she also takes requests. “Everyone gets to choose what kind of dessert they get for their birthday,” Kern said. She finds joy in baking and has found a way to share her talent and spread joy to others by baking treats, especially birthday cupcakes, for residents of MICAH House, a homeless shelter in Council Bluffs. 

“I love what I do for MICAH House,” Kern exclaimed. The joy in her voice is audible as she talks about the cupcakes she makes for the monthly birthday parties held for the children who live at the shelter. Brownies, cookies, and banana bars are also part of the rotation of delectable delights that Kern enjoys making and giving away. Those who are lucky enough to sample her homemade treats can tell there is a difference.

“Everything that Robin makes is made with love,” said Angie Williams, program director at MICAH House. “Baking is just one small way that Robin has given back to MICAH House and we are all so grateful for her support. Staff and clients look forward to Robin’s treats and I do not really think that anyone has a favorite.” Williams said that when the announcement comes that Kern has dropped off treats, everyone races to the kitchen to see what she brought. “It is a simple gesture that means a lot.”

That simple gesture means a lot to Kern, too. She calls it her therapy that helps to keep her healthy and her diabetes in check. “I love to bake and take it someplace, and that helps limit what I do eat,” Kern said. By baking for others, she gets her baking fix, as she calls it, which tops the list of things she likes to do as a volunteer.

Kern credits the start of her volunteering at MICAH House five years ago to her husband, Jeff Kern, who serves on its board of directors. She felt compelled to get involved and since she loves to bake, she started volunteering in the MICAH House kitchen. “I peeled potatoes, carrots, opened cans of vegetables, organized the pantry by sorting the food. Anything to help the kitchen staff prepare the meals for their residents,” she said. It was the monthly birthday parties that made her think more about how she could make a difference. 

Celebrating birthdays is common even in a homeless shelter and Robin wanted those celebrations to be special. She did not want to serve broken cookies or days-old cake. While fresh food donations of any kind to shelters are always appreciated, she wanted these monthly celebrations to be well-thought-out and planned. The events include cupcakes made for the occasion, ice cream, games with prizes for the children attending, and a present for the birthday child. 

Kayla Terrillion, child program specialist at MICAH House, said that the children love birthday parties. “They all look forward to that night every month. Robin brings in different games and activities to do each month, so we always do something different. It also gives the children something ‘normal’ to look forward to,” she said.

Cakes are what make an occasion a special one, Williams said. “Being in a shelter environment, families don’t have the opportunity to provide cakes or cupcakes for these celebrations. Robin has recognized that being able to celebrate someone’s life or a special event is really important and this has become a small way that she can give back to the families and children. They are so grateful to see and enjoy Robin’s creations.” Birthday parties, in particular, have become an exciting time for families, Williams said. “They get to put the day’s stressors behind them and celebrate life and accomplishments with baked goods that they otherwise would not get if it wasn’t for Robin.”

COVID-19 changed how Kern has engaged with MICAH House. To protect herself, the residents, and staff, the monthly birthday parties were canceled. What has not stopped is Kern bringing in the different food she has prepared for the MICAH House residents. “She still takes time every month to bring in a special birthday treat to serve to clients to celebrate birthdays for the month,” Terrillion said. 

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This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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