It’s hard to see those ASPCA commercials, packed with shots of abandoned pets and scored with emotional music, and not feel a pang of sadness or guilt.
Brianna Procaccini is familiar with that feeling, so she decided to do something about it.
The 14-year-old Lawrence resident started Kake-9, a charity baking organization. Procaccini, her mom, Corey, and friends Riley Burns, Isabelle Flemm, Haley Santello, Katelyn Santello, Marley Thomas and Carly Welsh spend their weekends baking cakes and cupcakes for friends, family and others who have heard about the effort. All proceeds go to pet rescues and animal welfare organizations—so far, Kake-9 has donated $150 each to EASEL Animal Shelter in Ewing and Hamilton-based Res-Q-Pets.
Procaccini came up with the idea two years ago. She loved baking and wanted to do it more often, and she found herself coming up with different ideas and recipes for cakes and cupcakes. She thought, with help, that she could turn it into a business—but she didn’t want to keep the money for herself. She thought of that commercial, and of the pets that needed help, and she ended up combining her two favorite things: dogs and baking.
“I like being able to be creative, thinking outside the box,” Procaccini said. “I like to be hands-on, so it’s a good way to embrace that side of me.”
Procaccini posts her creations on Instagram, @kake9cupcakes. She mainly bakes cupcakes but also does some cakes, and she likes to involve her followers in the process by creating polls for different flavors—she’s done pumpkin spice for the fall and s’mores for the summer. Other flavors include peanut butter cup, Oreo crumble, salted caramel pretzel and cookie dough. Kake-9 doesn’t do much promotion, and most of the business comes through word of mouth. Her first order was some cupcakes for a friend’s 16th birthday party.
‘At the beginning, I didn’t think it was actually going to work. It was just me… This actually got somewhere where I don’t want it to stop.’
Procaccini and her partners try to save baking for the weekends so they don’t get overloaded with schoolwork and extracurriculars during the week.
“It can get hard at times, especially when there are so many orders to cover,” she said. “It’s really all fun. It’s gotten stressful a couple of times. At the beginning, I was baking during the week, and that was very hard.”
Now, they accept orders a week prior to when the treats are needed. Orders started off slow, Procaccini said, but they have become steadier. She spends most weekends baking. She says if it’s a small order, she can handle it herself, but she enlists the help of her friends and Corey for bigger or multiple orders.
Her friends, Procaccini said, didn’t hesitate to help when she first introduced the idea of Kake-9 to them. Three of them record orders in a document that they all have access to, and three volunteer as advertisers to get the word out. Procaccini also has a manager and designers.
“A lot of them came to the business because they liked where the money was going,” she said. “It’s a volunteer kind of thing, but they’re a part of the group. They really liked it because a lot of my friends are dog people. One of my friends fosters animals all the time, so she was really interested.”
Some of her friends even accompanied her to drop off donations. Actually bringing the checks to the groups has been the most rewarding part of the whole operation, Procaccini said. Seeing the pets at the shelter stuck with her.
“Res-Q-Pets told us that the donation would spay or neuter three cats, so it was nice to put it into perspective,” Corey said.
And seeing that tangible impact, Corey added, made her feel even more impressed by her daughter’s efforts.
“I’m always so proud of her,” Corey said. “It’s great. It was overwhelming, but just seeing how she really takes over and she wants to have meetings with the friends who have asked to join, just seeing them all work together, it’s really nice. It makes me really proud that she didn’t want to keep any of the money for herself. It’s nice that this is how she and her teenage friends are spending their time.”
Eventually, Procaccini hopes to start vending at bake sales or other local events. For those, she has mini cupcakes and treats for dogs in mind.
“If it expanded, I’d be so happy,” she said. “At the beginning, I didn’t think it was actually going to work. It was just me. I didn’t have a group or anything. I’ve tried to do stuff before with car washes, a dog walking business, but I never actually wanted to pursue it. This actually got somewhere where I don’t want it to stop.”