Tanya Rae Piper loves her job as a hairstylist, but her real passion is baking cakes for the local firefighters.
When Piper was 10 years old, she decided she wanted to bake a pie. Her mom told her making pie crust was difficult and showed her how. One day after school, Piper made a pie for her dad. It turned out better than her mom’s — and her mom hasn’t baked since.
Piper has lived in the Edmonds area for 52 years. She first started baking birthday cakes for the 21 women who work with her at Salon Zuberenz in Lynnwood. She said they always told her to stop baking because they were worried about the extra calories.
Then, almost seven years ago, Evergreen Church in Bothell held a special service for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to honor first responders. They had a list of the local police and fire departments, to encourage people to sign up to bring cookies and invite the first responders to this special event.
Piper chose Lynnwood Fire Station 15. It was the station that came to her home when her dad had a heart attack. Her dad was a police officer, so she understands the stressful situations first responders experience regular basis. Baking cakes for them is something really simple she can do for them, she said.
“A little voice in my head said bake birthday cakes for them,” Piper said.
She started baking cakes for the firefighters that September, almost seven years ago. She stayed anonymous for the first few months because she said it wasn’t about meeting the firefighters — it was about giving back to the community and doing something.
“Birthdays to me, everybody needs to be celebrated at least one day a year,” Piper said.
In October, Fire District 1 and the Lynnwood Fire Department merged and became the South Snohomish Fire and Rescue Regional Fire Authority. Piper recalled March 3 being the first day that a lot of the people from Lynnwood got moved to other stations.
Before the merger happened, one of the Lynnwood firefighters was getting his hair cut by Piper and said, “If we get transferred out of (fire station) 15, we aren’t going to get cake anymore.”
Piper responded, “Just because you’re not at (station) 15, doesn’t mean you’re not going to get cake. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
Piper said she was up for the challenge. Since March, Piper has been baking birthday cakes for all 14 South Snohomish Fire stations. That is 265 cakes a year — excluding the cakes for her salon and other family events.
Going from 68 cakes for the Lynnwood station’s firefighters, administration and EMTs to 265 came with a jump in budget. She had a plan to try to do fundraising on Facebook, but the firefighters union got together and voted unanimously to fund the whole thing, allocating $2,000 for the cakes.
Piper said the firefighters’ favorite cakes are chocolate peanut butter, coffee cake and lemon cake. When she first started baking for them, she said, it was boring. All they wanted was chocolate cake.
“Really there is no limit to what they can have,” she said.
Now she makes all different kinds of chocolate cake as well as varieties of cheesecake, carrot cake and cookies. Baking is therapeutic to her.
“As long as I’m baking, I don’t care,” she said. “Baking is kind of like how I wind down. I love being in the kitchen. It’s never stressful to me, ever.”
She has 21 cakes this month just for the fire department and 27 next month. To track all the birthdays, she keeps a color- coordinated calendar and a list of all the workers and their shifts.
Last Friday she had four deliveries to do, at all different stations, before she went to work at 9 a.m.
She visited the other 12 fire stations, and she could tell the different atmosphere in the stations compared to Lynnwood.
Piper said one of the firefighters from a different area told her that cake was last thing they needed.
Her response? “That man just needs more love. He’s bitter because of what they have to see all the time. I’m going to kill him with kindness, and he’s gonna love me and he’s gonna love cake.”
Though she loves baking, Piper said she would not consider opening a bakery because it wouldn’t be as fun if she had to do it for work. Piper usually makes sheet cakes or bundt cakes because they’re easiest. She doesn’t do fancy, she said, and the firefighters don’t care.
Piper has no plan to stop. Initially, she was going to bake for all 14 South Snohomish Fire stations for one year, then do two stations at a time after that. However, if the funding continues, she would enjoy continuing to bake for all.
“This doesn’t freak me out. This really makes me happy. I get excited when I have to deliver three cakes in a day,” she said.
Two years ago, Piper started cooking Thanksgiving dinner at the Lynnwood station so the firefighters could have dinner with their families.
“That is something I will always do now. That was the most rewarding thing ever,” she said.
If the firefighters work on Thanksgiving, they won’t get a dinner and they don’t get to be with their families. Piper does a lot of the preparation at home, but at 11 a.m. she goes to the station to use their well-equipped kitchen to do everything else.
“It’s really hard to have a bad attitude or be ugly and hateful and there’s enough of that in this world right now, especially in this nation,” she said. “If you’re doing a kindness for someone else, it’s really hard to have bitterness and anger, towards anything.”
–Story and photos by Hannah Horiatis