Fundraising? It's a piece of cake.

Thompson House students are learning how to run a business and helping U of C parents send a birthday celebration from anywhere in the world.
Even though I was away from my family, they could still celebrate it with me in a way.

While settled into an armchair in the Harper Memorial Library Commons, working through an Adorno reading for his SOSC class, first-year Brian Belak received an unexpected text message: “Happy birthday! My name is Jane Gordon. I’m from Thompson House and I have a cake to deliver from your family.

After arranging to meet her outside the gates of Burton-Judson, he returned to his lounge with a personalized card and a decorated box containing a cake—chocolate with coconut frosting.

“I didn’t really get anything else from my parents beyond just conversing with them, so this cake was the most physical thing,” Belak, a Cinema and Media Studies major, said. “I wouldn’t have had cake otherwise—and cake is a birthday staple—so that was nice.”

Belak is one of the 350-450 students each year whose parents order a birthday cake for them through Thompson House’s fundraising operation.

For the last decade, Thompson House, home to 68 students on the seventh and eighth floors of Pierce Tower, has carried on this sweet business to raise money for house trips and dinners as well as lounge improvements like a big-screen TV and a pool table. 

The fundraiser is jointly managed this year by “Cake Chairs” Claude Lockhart and Colin Weaver, both second-years and Economics majors. Through their fundraising efforts, Weaver said they aim at “improving the quality of life in the house” through the business. 

“It was just something I was interested in and wanted to put effort into and try to help the house,” Lockhart said. “I’ve always been interested in getting money—I guess that’s part of the Econ major—so it was fun to fundraise and try to come up with new ideas, and just work hard and try to make money to support our house.”

The Cake Chairs and their assistants advertise the service to parents by mailing out 150-250 postcards whose birthdays fall in the given month. Interested parents submit an order through the house’s online ordering form (the preferred method), or by mail, and then send $15 via PayPal or check.

“The kids are away from home and we want to do something special, but the distance makes it impossible to be there personally and do some kind of surprise,” Suma Suresh, mother of first-year Samarth Suresh, said. “The experience was nice, and I hope the cake itself was also very good.”

The operation also teaches the students skills like business practices, customer service, and problem-solving. “It’s a good experience to work as part of a group. They’re sort of doing it on their own, out of their own good, but they do it to help the greater house,” Lockhart said.  

While Cake Chairs Lockhart and Weaver are tasked with overseeing the operation, they receive support from other Thompsonites who deliver cakes throughout the quarter. The endeavor provides more than funds for TVs and pool tables for the housemates. Instead, Weaver said that responses and appreciation from parents add to the rewarding experience of the business.

“Every now and then I get handwritten thank-you notes [from parents], which are super nice,” Weaver said. “I usually post them up in the lounge so that everyone can see, ‘Look, people really do appreciate that you delivered a cake, guys.’”

As another first-time recipient of a Thompson House cake, Samarth recognized the operation’s capacity to connect students to their families and to forge house interaction.

“It was nice to see that, even though I was away from my family, they could still celebrate it with me in a way,” Suresh said. “I couldn’t eat the whole cake by myself, so I invited friends over and we all shared it. Everyone definitely liked it.”

For more information on ordering a cake, visit the Thompson House site.

Tagged: House System, Parents, Housing