Friend Inc. Community Services marked a record-setting year with their 4th annual Executive Baker Challenge during the 30th annual Benefit Auction held at Beltzner Hall in Kutztown on April 27.

Baker Challenge winner, Connie Merkel of East Penn Manufacturing, said, “I’m happy that I could do that for Friend, and I’m excited that they said this was their record-setting year. I feel good that maybe I was a part of that.”

Merkel’s team in total raised more than $7,000 alone, with the total from the baker challenge holistically pooling more than $20,000. In the bidding for Merkel’s cake, one man bid against himself four times, raising the stakes for any competitors and additionally contributing to the record-setting totals this year.

Merkel shed some light on the creation of her cake, which was a four-layer apple cake, 12 inches in diameter, decorated in fondant, and weighing about 50 pounds in her estimate. She said it could probably feed between 80 to 100 people or more and sold for more than $1,000 at auction.

While Merkel admitted to being a little competitive, she also said, “I’m a people-person so I’m one of those who always looks to help someone else.”

The mission of Friend is “to provide for and support those in need, individuals and families, in Northeastern Berks County through different programs,” said Friend Executive Director Sandra Wise.

In initiating the Baker Challenge four years ago, Wise said they had been looking for additional ways to raise money for the local community and each year that Friend hosts the competition, “the amount we raise goes up.”

This event then serves as a union between community members, with individuals from all different backgrounds gathering together for a night of fun, food, prizes, and goodwill.

One attendee, Carla Flemming, said, “It’s not just one type of person [supporting this event]; it’s anyone, from businessmen to housewives.”

The variety in attendees matched the variety of items available at the auction, and that goes beyond the desserts.

The silent auction consisted of a unique collection of prizes and items, from museum tickets to doggy baskets. The same goes for their mystery balloons. Each balloon cost $20 and whoever purchased a balloon was guaranteed a prize of some kind. Some baskets were full of Yankee candles while others held hair care products, gardening items, and even gift cards.

Everyone in attendance was able to obtain samples of the prize cakes and donate money toward whichever dessert they thought to be the best. While the winning dessert was Merkel’s apple cake, some of the others consisted of New York cheesecake by Ellen Overcast of Main Street Getaways, strawberry cheesecake by Matt Hilbert of Kutztown Printing and carrot cake by Maria Werth of Business Owners Trade Alliance.

Wirth’s team raised $2,385 in support of Friend. In her efforts to raise money for the event, she put together a charity cookbook, “Kutztown in the Kitchen,” consisting of recipes from local business and individuals. Some book participants include Camillo’s Italian Restaurant, Renninger’s Farmer’s Market, and Epicurean Pantry. The book itself will be sold in local shops and businesses and will continue to raise money for Friend.

One of the most exciting events during the Baker Challenge was the auction of the Almond Joy Brownies by Kutztown University Dean of Students Donovan McCargo and KU Director of Office of Student Involvement Leah Casselia. Auctioneer, Terry Lieb, kicked off the bidding at $100 and in minutes, the bidding rose above $2,500.

Casselia remarked on her gratitude for Friend as they are also sponsors of the satellite student pantry on Kutztown University’s campus.

“They’ve been tremendous supporters of the KU student population and we are just so thankful for them.”

In speaking with Casselia about the Baker Challenge, she said, “What I look forward to is being with a large group of people that all have the same interest of supporting the local community. I just love seeing that kind of stuff, and just being with people who are there for all the right reasons.”

For more information on this event and others, visit Friend’s website at https://www.friendinc.org/.

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