Giant Cinnamon Rolls Raise Money, Feed ‘Bellies and Souls’

May 12, 2020 Updated: May 12, 2020

Scared for friends who had contracted the new coronavirus and worried about her daughter’s schooling and husband’s work, Whitney Rutz cried and screamed into her pillow.

Then, the Portland, Oregon resident started baking.

What began as an effort to cheer herself up ended up lifting the spirits of many others, raising money for thousands of meals, and nourishing “the bellies and souls” of health care workers—one giant cinnamon roll at a time.

Rutz’s rolls have raised more than $35,000 for the Oregon Food Bank, enough for more than 105,000 meals. At first, she was auctioning the rolls off—the first went for $300. Now, Rutz, with some help, bakes a giant roll—12 inches across and weighing more than five pounds—for every $500 raised. The highest contributor of the day decides where the roll goes.

giant cinnamon roll
Whitney Rutz displays a large cinnamon roll before putting it in the oven. (Whitney Rutz via AP)

Since a friend asked for her roll to be donated to health care workers instead of delivered to her, the vast majority have gone to hospitals and health or assisted-living facilities.

“If I didn’t have this to focus on … I don’t know the state I would be in right now emotionally,” Rutz said on a recent weekend, when she woke up before 6 a.m. and spent most of her day in the kitchen kneading, slicing and rolling dough, and spreading the filling.

Once the operation grew, the food bank set up a fundraising page for the donations. Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan said the rolls bring something to the table besides food: joy

“We’re all scared and hunkered down and worried about our health and the health of our loved ones, and some of us have lost our jobs, and hunger is spiking through the roof,” she said. “Trying to tackle this sort of massive, enormous situation by baking giant cinnamon rolls just makes you smile.”

Others have been inspired to roll up their sleeves, too.

As the number of donations increased, Rutz’s twin sister and a friend of hers started baking rolls for the fundraiser in their own kitchens. An acquaintance—a mother of three whose husband lost his job in the midst of the pandemic—donated money and launched her own fundraiser in North Carolina. Rutz’s husband, a painter, decorated some of the rolls’ boxes, a job that initially was their daughter’s. Artists and local celebrities have stepped in to help. One performer has been bedecking the boxes with colorful drawings and helping with deliveries.

little girl decorates cinnamon roll box
Whitney Rutz’s daughter, Elsa, decorates a box for a cinnamon roll. (Whitney Rutz via AP)

Jackie Enriquez, a nurse, takes the rolls to health care workers.

“So many people are getting really creative,” she said. “There’s many ways that you can contribute and you don’t have to be on the front lines.”

Enriquez took two rolls to emergency room nurses to surprise them after a particularly rough shift.

“It just made their day. They cried,” she said. Her voice cracked with emotion. “I think that they felt … really moved, and that people are still out there cheering them on.”

By Mariam Fam