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Bloomington baker makes cakes in exchange for donations to mutual aid groups


Dev Montanez has been baking cakes, donuts and other sweets in exchange for donations to mutual aid groups and other local organizations since March. Montanez has baked 25 cakes in exchange for donations so far, raising about $1,200 for organizations such as Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Black Lives Matter Bloomington. Courtesy Photo

Dev Montanez loves to bake, but found baking for money at their former job as an employee of local vegan establishment Rainbow Bakery unfulfilling. The Bloomington resident said while they didn’t have a problem working there, baking for money wasn’t enjoyable.

Since beginning a non-baking job in March, Montanez has been baking cakes, donuts and other sweets in exchange for donations to mutual aid groups and other local organizations. 

Montanez has baked 25 cakes in exchange for donations so far, raising about $1,200 for organizations such as Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and Black Lives Matter Bloomington.

“I wanted to continue to bake, but more on my terms and more aimed at anti-capitalist ideals,” Montanez said. “It’s now more to celebrate a person rather than being a transaction.” 

Each cake is unique, using ingredients ranging from gummy worms to edible flowers and foraged berries. Their favorite creation so far, an elderflower cake with lemon curd and elderflower swiss meringue, was made for one of the owners of the now-deceased local celebritycat Lil Bub

People can submit a commission request on Montanez’s website, outlining the type of cake they’re looking for. Then, they send Montanez screenshots of their donation, though Montanez said on the website they’re also happy to make a cake for unemployed or furloughed people without a donation.

There is a short list of suggested organizations on the commission page, which includes food justice organizations such as Btown Food Not Bombs, housing issues groups including Hotels for Houseless, and BLM Bloomington. However, Montanez said they don’t want to dictate where people choose to donate, as long as the groups are mutual-aid oriented or local rather than large nonprofits.

Montanez said they learned to bake from a friend whose mother was a cake decorator. This experience of baking together showed Montanez baking should be celebratoryinstead of something done for money. 

“I really just wanted to do this to help people celebrate each other in this really hard time," they said.

Kamila, an IU geography student who preferred to use only her first name, ordered her cake during the protests in Minneapolis, so she donated to Reclaim the Block, a Minneapolis organization that advocates for defunding the police.

She described Montanez's cakes as cute and delicious, such as a chocolate “dirt” pudding cake with crushed Oreo cookies and gummy worms.  

“The things they’re doing right now are great. It’s a really great way to raise money and they’re an amazing baker,” Kamila added.

Elizabeth Sullivan, who works for IU’s Center for the Exploration of Energy and Matter, said she’s donated to the Hoosier Hills Food Bank in exchange for Montanez’s cakes a few times. Sullivan has received a wheat olive oil cake with fruit compote and a carrot cake with raisinsand nuts. She said she planned to order more.

“Especially right now, because of COVID and how things are really bleak that we’re all living through, getting a cake or sweet thing without an occasion can really lift your spirits,” she said. “Especially since it’s for a good cause.”

All of the cakes are vegan, even though Montanez is not. They said vegan baking is often easier and less wasteful than conventional baking. 

When Montanez receives tips or direct payments, they send the money to Project Pink Bloc, a Bloomington collective of sex workers and others working on mutual aid and harm reduction. 

This wasn’t Montanez’s first time baking for a cause. In 2012, they helped organize Combatting Latent Inequality Together Fest, a New Brunswick, New Jersey, punk festival with a bake sale component that raised funds for a domestic violence shelter. 

They also worked with another local baker, Kim Naseath, to organize a Bloomington Bakers Against Racism event in June. The bake sale received contributions from local professional and home bakers and raised $2,746 for BLM Bloomington and the TGI Justice Project. Bakers Against Racism was an international event started by a few Washington D.C. bakers in response to the killing of George Floyd by police and the protests that followed earlier this summer. 

Montanez said they plan to continue baking cakes for donation into the fall. They will also have a workspace at a plant and flower shop that is scheduled to open in Bloomington this fall, where they will continue baking cakes. They hope to teach workshops on topics such as decorating with flowers and working with pie crust. 

They said the skills they learned as a former employee at Rainbow Bakery have helped them figure out their efficient baking process.

Montanez added they had been planning to move to New Jersey for their new job doing logistics for a trucking company, but the coronavirus pandemic interrupted those plans. They now work from home in Bloomington and sometimes spend their lunch hour frosting and decorating cakes. Montanez said working from home has allowed them the flexibility to make two or three cakes a week, and the money from their full-time job covers all of the cake-related expenses. 

“I think that COVID definitely changed my priorities,” they said. “I’m more likely to stay here and work to help my community that I live in.”

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