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When Justin Mackee decided to bake and deliver cakes for charity during the COVID-19 state of emergency, he readied his tiny Ebisu kitchen for a project that he thought might last a few weeks at most.
Nearly four months on, the 39-year-old risk consultant, whose work had been put on hold during the nationwide state of emergency, has baked over 310 cakes, raising more than ¥750,000 for the nationwide food bank Second Harvest Japan.
Every one of his carrot and banana loaves — the only cake in his repertoire — is baked in his portable countertop oven and then hand-delivered by scooter across the city’s 23 wards. With each yen he puts toward feeding families who are economically impacted by the pandemic, Mackee has become more aware of a growing, yet largely hidden, issue.
“There are part-time workers and single parents who, because of factors that are totally outside their control, have lost their jobs and aren’t able to feed their children,” he says. “It’s almost an invisible problem and there’s not enough support for these people and I just thought that I could perhaps help them out.”
But his project, called Let Tokyo Eat Cake, has taken on significance in other ways, too, giving Mackee an element of social interaction — and a calming focus — that he craves while living alone.
Many of the cakes are bought as presents for others, often as surprises, and every week he delivers to local kodomo no shokudō (children’s cafeterias) that provide meals for financially disadvantaged families. His cake-laden journeys have taken him to the homes of strangers and old friends, to apartment blocks and fashion stores and even to the student son of an Instagram follower who supports his efforts from her home in Australia. Purchases have come from the U.S., Hong Kong, Shanghai, London and across Japan. In the middle of feeling completely alone, Mackee says he’s been able to feel connected while doing some good.
He’s celebrated several milestones as orders continue to pour in. At 100 cakes, Mackee stopped personally covering the costs of ingredients; at 285, he gave himself a few days off.
But it was cake number 259 that stands out to him the most. Mackee delivered it to his most special customer yet — his 97-year-old obāchan (grandmother) in Shonan, who he hadn’t seen in person since March.
“I can’t tell you how happy it made me,” he says of their reunion, which came when coronavirus fears quietened in June. “The tears in my eyes, just from her holding my hand, took me by complete surprise.”
Along the way, he has photographed every willing recipient, an ever-expanding gallery of loaf-laden customers — and fleeting social moments — filling Instagram.
The interactions are brief, he says, yet full of positivity and shared smiles. To him, the portraits are “wonderful” because there’s a little bit of joy in every one of them.
Although his work is picking up again, the globe is still on high alert, and Mackee plans to continue baking and delivering his cakes, fitting Let Tokyo Eat Cake around corporate clients. By carving out two days a week for baking, he hopes to support both the children’s cafeterias and Second Harvest Japan, which he believes will only be under more pressure as the economic repercussions of the coronavirus reveal themselves.
And, as he stirs the fruit and nuts into his batter, Mackee finds solace in the cooking process, a sort of kitchen therapy he now leans on.
“We’re still in uncertain times, and even after so many cakes, I start mixing the ingredients and immediately I feel better,” he explains. “It’s something I’m happy to do.”
By Daisy Dumas, The Japan Times