Thanks to the brother-sister team of Erika and Mark Shimahara for this guest post.  Erika writes about food at her blog, thebigeblog.com. Her brother Mark writes about coffee at espresso-shots.com.

Last Saturday, simultaneous bake sales took place in some 40 locations across the country from Maui to Brooklyn. All proceeds go to Peace Winds Japan, a non-profit organization providing disaster relief for the March 11th earthquake that ravaged hundreds of thousands of lives in Eastern Japan.

California hosted 20 of these bake sales. A brother-sister team filed this report on the LA and San Francisco locations.  On the surface, the unpretentiously named “Bake Sale for Japan” was about brownies, cupcakes, Japanese treats, and families in fleece dropping by between errands on a Saturday morning.

Crowds at Piazziolo, in Oakland, where treats were displayed on tables inside and outside the popular restaurant.

Crowds at Piazziolo, in Oakland, where treats were displayed on tables inside and outside the popular restaurant.

But even more than it was about sweets, or Japan, this event was about the power of grassroots organizing and people moved by the mass suffering of strangers way across the globe; it was about inspiring people to bake in their kitchens for others, reaching out, folding origami cranes over communal tables, and talking about food.

Teachers and participants fold origami cranes at Angeli Caffe. Organizer Samin Nostrat's goal was a thousand cranes, which symbolize good fortune and peace.

Teachers and participants fold origami cranes at Angeli Caffe. Organizer Samin Nostrat's goal was a thousand cranes, which symbolize good fortune and peace.

In California, owners of eateries of ethnicities from Jewish to Korean, serving cuisine from Italian to Latin-fusion offered their storefronts, sections of dining space, and—in some cases—their entire restaurants to bake sale organizers. In addition, some businesses even donated a percentage of their day’s revenues to the Peace Winds fund.

LA Bakesale for Japan organizer Breanne Varela setting up shop at the Forage location.

LA Bakesale for Japan organizer Breanne Varela setting up shop at the Forage location.

Early morning deliveries were made by local bakeries, including some from the finest restaurants in the country.

Assorted cookies from Chez Panisse at Gioia Pizzeria, the Berkeley location.

Assorted cookies from Chez Panisse at Gioia Pizzeria, the Berkeley location.

Throughout the day neighbors dropped off manju (traditional Japanese sweets), cakes, cookies, and even savory snacks. Some of them came in home-style Tupperware containers, others were meticulously and artistically packaged, yet others were sealed with stickers labeled “I Love Japan.”

The event was organized by Samin Nosrat, a Berkeley-based chef who has cooked in some of California’s most famous kitchens, including Chez Panisse and Tartine. She also co-founded the Pop-Up General Store in Oakland, a market featuring the products of artisan purveyors of the local, organic, sustainable variety— coffee from Four Barrel, wines from Kermit Lynch, and foods prepared by a host of Chez Panisse alumni-chefs.

Bake Sale for Japan organizer Samin Nosrat beside a long line at Piazziolo.

Bake Sale for Japan organizer Samin Nosrat beside a long line at Piazziolo.

Bake Sale for Japan was Samin’s second grand-scale bake sale event; the first one was following the earthquake in Haiti last year, which raised $23,000.  The sale last Saturday is expected to have quadrupled that amount.  Alas, let’s not get lost in numbers. Bake Sale for Japan raised awareness, community spirit, and a sense of empathy. Moreover it showcased the talents of a remarkable chef with a passion for connecting the pleasures and comforts of food with humanitarianism.

At Black Cat Bakery, Ayako Fujita takes photos of patrons with their messages to Japan for a video slideshow.

At Black Cat Bakery, Ayako Fujita takes photos of patrons with their messages to Japan for a video slideshow.

Samin captured the vibe of the day in her Tweet en route to her fourth Bake Sale location on Saturday, which we too felt in our visits in LA and San Francisco: “So much love!” she wrote. Indeed.

Chatting about food and culture at Black Cat Bakery.

Chatting about food and culture at Black Cat Bakery.

KCRW Radio App TuneIn Stitcher SoundCloud iTunes

BROUGHT TO YOU BY