Stewartville girl gets her dream birthday cake
Icing Smiles connects bakers to children with life-threatening illnesses.
STEWARTVILLE — Arianna was 7 when she was adopted by Stewartville resident Barbara Fischer. So intensive were her medical needs that her birth mother abandoned her, and Arianna spent her toddler years in a hospital ward.
Arianna suffers from a degenerative disorder called spinal muscular atrophy. It's a disorder that has taken its toll on the teenage girl and increasingly paralyzed her movements. Arianna uses a tube to breathe. She can’t draw or color anymore. She can move her finger just well enough to maneuver her wheelchair.
What hasn’t been lost is Arianna’s ability to celebrate, to empathize, to experience joy. So as her birthday approached, Arianna was asked by Fischer how she wanted to celebrate it. Arianna had a small checklist of ideas in mind. She wanted a sweet 16 birthday party. And she wanted a cake.
And it had to be all pink.
It’s her favorite color.
“Arianna was absolutely thrilled with it,” Fischer said. “It was exactly what she wanted. It was very exciting for her, because she wanted a very special party for sweet 16. And so we invited like 20 kids to come to this party. And we bought all pink decorations, all pink balloons. She wanted a pink cake. We had everything.”
The cake came courtesy of a nonprofit called Icing Smiles. The national organization provides custom cakes and other treats to families with children who have life-threatening illnesses. In this case, Icing Smiles was able to identify a local baker only blocks away from Fischer’s home.
Rachael Burt started her homemade bakery business, “Burtie’s Sweet Treats,” in the summer of 2021. Burt, a sixth-grade math and science teacher in the Kingsland School District, discovered a knack for baking when she was in high school.
Burt makes brownies so dense, rich and decadent that they’ve earned the nickname “unicorn brownies.” The brownie is gluten-free and a mystery to friends and family, who bite into the delectable treat and wonder how it was made. Usually gluten-free foods have an odd taste and texture to them. But not these brownies.
“When I tell people that there’s no flour in it and they’re completely gluten-free, people are like, ‘well, what’s in it?’ Burt said. “And I joke that there are rainbows, unicorn horns and fluffy clouds, because they are magical.”
But the magic is not only in the ingredients but the spirit in which they are made. Burt calls baking her “love language.” It’s her way of caring for people. So signing up to be a volunteer baker for Icing Smiles was a simple extension of why she became a baker. Burt receives a small stipend from Icing Smiles for her baked goods, but it’s not why she does it.
“It’s just another way to show that you care about people,” said Burt, who has baked two other cakes for Icing Smiles families. “It’s just another way to show and reach out and care for people even if you don’t know them.”
Burt’s concoction for Arianna was a two-tiered cake with rosettes on the bottom layer, swirls on the top, and “Sweet 16” decorated across it. It was a perfect complement to Arianna’s birthday outfit, which included a fluffy pink boa, a red sash that read “Happy Birthday,” and a blouse that sparkled like a disco ball.
Icing Smiles has delivered nearly 28,000 cakes to families in its eight years of existence, according to its website www.icingsmiles.org . More than 13,000 volunteers keep the organization running, which serves families in all 50 states.
Burt doesn't always get to meet the children she bakes for, but she did with Arianna.
“She had a big smile on her face," Burt said
Arianna has an adopted younger brother, AJ. He suffers from a disorder that prevents his skin from properly anchoring to his body. With his 16th birthday coming up in December, an Icing Smiles birthday cake looms in his future, but it probably won't be all pink.
"(Burt) said, 'You know what? I can bake a cake. Let me know what he wants,'" Fischer recalled.