The 27th annual Benefit Auction’s new Executive Baker Challenge alone raised $15,000 for Friend Inc. Community Services in Kutztown.

“We have a great turnout, more than we’ve ever had so I’m excited,” said Friend Executive Director Sandra Wise. “We had a bakers challenge so that helped to bring new people out.”

About 240 people attended the event compared to last year’s 103 people. Wise said they raised $38,182 compared to last year’s $16,323.

“The bakers challenge raised funds for us but also brought more people out to the auction itself,” said Wise.

“I think this is a fantastic event. I really do,” said Fleetwood resident Janet Peters as she tasted cake from the bakers challenge. “Everything is so great. The cakes are so good, everything.”

Held at Beltzner Hall at the Kutztown Fairgrounds, the event featured dinner catered by Janelle Catering, drinks by Saucony Creek Brewing Co. and wine from Blair Vineyards, a silent auction and live auction of a variety of donated items, including art, jewelry, household items, autographed items, and gift certificates for local businesses, as well as the famous desserts.

“We’ve tried to expand what we were doing and build on a successful operation and I think that’s happened this year, which is a good thing,” said Barbara Coffin, president of the Board of Directors for Friend. “We’ve increased attendance and we have a whole variety of things and our bakers are all baking away on wonderful food and it’s going to be great to bid on it and get some cool desserts.”

Friend chose six local executives to compete as part of the event’s famous dessert auction. Rev. Keith and Deb Rohrbach of Trinity Lutheran Church raised the most funds between event ticket sales, donations they gathered and the auctioning of the kiffles they baked.

The other bakers were Kutztown Mayor Sandy Green, Fleetwood Mayor Tammy Gore, Kevin Claypoole and Eric Claypoole of East Penn Manufacturing and Robertson Enterprises, James Sher, Esq. of Sher and Associates and his wife Dr. Christie Ganas, and Friend, Inc. food pantry volunteers Darlene Berk and Christine Kokinda.

“It’s just a fun event,” said Berk, who baked her mother’s recipe for a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting while her baking challenge partner Kokinda baked secret center cookie cakes. “There’s camaraderie but there’s a little bit of ‘Oh, I want this’ and you know two people are standing to bid on the same thing. It’s for a wonderful organization. Kutztown is very blessed with an organization like Friend.”

“We enjoy volunteering and the people we meet,” said Kokinda.

Kutztown Mayor Sandy Green had not baked in 15 years.

“It was a challenge for me and I’m glad that I did it... I had fun doing it,” said Green who baked Soleil Cake made with Soleil wine by Manatawny Creek Winery.

Fleetwood Mayor Tammy Gore said the bake challenge was a lot of fun. She baked her great-grandmother’s triple layer coconut cake with cream cheese icing. She also included all of the ingredients necessary for the auction bid winner to make their own coconut cake at home.

“I love this event. Friend is such a terrific organization. We just need to get the word out and make everyone aware of what they do here in the area,” said Gore.

Dr. Ganas, a gynecologist at Penn State Health St. Joseph, baked her husband James Sher’s favorite cake, a coconut cake with cream cheese frosting. When she brings this cake into her office, Ganas said she can get her staff to do just about anything.

“I thought it was a fun way to support Friend Inc.,” said Ganas, an Exeter resident. The cake had the Friend logo on top. “I think Friend is a wonderful resource. They do a great job for this community.”

Her favorite part of the event was “seeing all of the wonderful people here and sharing my cake with them.”

The real excitement of the event began with the auctioning off of the executive chef cakes, starting with a cake by Kevin Claypoole and his brother Eric Claypoole, known for his hex sign art. They baked a Pa Dutch “right-side up” cake (instead of an upside down cake), creating a distelfink made with fruit on top.

The bidding was as fast as the auctioneer’s words. The auctioneer made jokes while he encouraged people to bid, “On the whole cake, this is not just a piece. We’re going to give you the fruit with it, too.”

Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach said Friend’s Benefit Auction is a great event. He likes the variety of it, the silent auction, the live auction and the celebrity chefs.

“What I love most is eating dessert first so I’ve already had a piece of every one of the celebrity chefs’ (desserts) and more importantly it’s for a very good cause and to see communities come together. We have the mayor of Kutztown and the mayor of Fleetwood and a number of people from our community,” said Leinbach. “It’s a good thing to see.”

Leinback said Friend is one of a number of organizations throughout this Commonwealth that are very important to the people that have needs in our community.

“We appreciate the work that they do and without them there would be a lot more burden and pressure on the government to fill in the gaps and they’ve done a great job in the community,” said Leinbach.

The benefit event raises funds for Friend’s programs and services. Friend is a multi-service social agency that serves families and individuals living in Northeastern Berks County. Programs and services include a food pantry, financial management program and assistance with emergency needs.

“We serve over 300 families a month so it’s quite a bit for us to be doing since we’re such a small organization. We help people in Kutztown, Brandywine and Fleetwood,” said Wise. “I’d like to thank everybody for supporting us at this event and all of the bakers that volunteered their time and efforts; it’s really nice of them to volunteer to do this.”

For more information about Friend Inc. and its services, visit http://www.friendinc.org/ or call 610-683-7790.

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