By Marti Schodt
As rain came pounding down in pails, pots and buckets Saturday morning, one volunteer from NAMI’s Depressed Cake shop brought salvation in the form of paper coffee cups.
“I’m so sorry I can’t bring you mimosas,” she called to the dozens standing in line outside. “I would in a heartbeat, but I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.”
Despite the rain, hundreds showed up to the third-annual Depressed Cake event held on October 10 at Sole Repair in Capitol Hill in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 4-10. The space was rented to the National Alliance on Mental Health of greater Seattle free of charge, as a show of support for the work they do in the community,
“NAMI does a great job of getting people the help they need,” said Paula Snow, manager of Sole Repair, “and this is such a great event; such an amazing way to start the conversation on mental health.”
The Depressed Cake shop, founded in the UK in 2012 by PR specialist and creative director Emma Thomas, is a one-day pop up cake shop with a mission of bringing hope to those living with mental illness; and a guarantee that all proceeds will go directly to the mental health organizations that put the shops on.
The shops run on donations by local bakers and artisans who make special sweets that are gray on the outside and colorful on the inside. The Depressed Cake organization uses the contrast to signify possibility and light in the gray cloud of depression and frustration.
While Depressed Cake organized the first Seattle event two years ago, NAMI of Greater Seattle has since taken over planning and execution of the event and was able to bring in over $7,000 this year, according to executive director Ashley Fontaine, with all proceeds going directly to the organization.
One in four people will face, or be touched by a mental illness in their lifetimes, according to NAMI. The organization hopes that community-centered events like Depressed Cake will counteract the negativity and stigma that so often accompany mental illness by giving people a safe (and savory) place to openly discuss mental health issues and struggles.
“It’s a really good fit for us,” said Fontaine. “Everyone gets really excited about it and we get to bring in new people who maybe have never heard of NAMI in a fun and non-intimidating way.”
This year’s event is unique as it’s the first year that NAMI has accepted sponsorship from local organizations.
“We just sat down and thought about why we were doing this event and what we wanted to gain from it,” said Fontaine. “It’s not going to bring in a lot of money, like say, a gala would. But it’s more about community outreach, about getting new people in the door. Sponsorship seemed like great way to maximize funds without letting go of that outreach objective.”
Today NAMI hosts a variety of programs, such as Family to Family, which allows family members experienced with supporting a loved one with mental illness a chance to educate parents and siblings of the newly diagnosed. They also host In Our Own Voice, a program that helps those suffering from mental illness to share their experiences.
“It’s not something you really know about,” said Mindy Meyring, a longtime volunteer of NAMI.
“You think you understand mental health and everything that goes into it, but then you’re faced with it and it’s this big confusing thing. NAMI offers the safe space and answers people need. It’s an organization that helps people understand how to navigate the system without judgment,” said Meyring.
Saturday’s event was a smash hit, with the space tightly packed with people of all ages discussing mental illness in a casual way.
Marina Miller, a nursing student at Seattle University, heard about the event over Facebook and invited all of her friends to join her for a treat.
“We saw it online and it seemed awesome,” she said, holding a small box of gray cupcakes.
Marina and her friends had never heard of NAMI or Depressed Cake, but were intrigued enough by the possibility of low-priced baked goods to check it out and learn more about the organization.
“It’s different than other events we do,” said Lucy Woodworth, a NAMI board member. “Also,” she adds, laughing, “eating cake in the name of charity is a cause a lot more people are willing to get behind.”