Whitney Rutz was sheltering in place and going out of her mind.
“I was still working full-time, and my husband was trying to figure out how to be a first-grade teacher for our 7-year-old daughter,” she told CNN.
Plus, two of Rutz’s friends had just been diagnosed with Covid-19.
“I just lost it. I had a good scream-cry. I can’t control anything! We can’t leave the house!”
So Rutz regrouped, grabbed her iron skillet and, with help from her daughter, poured her energy into a 3-hour baking project.
The sweet results: one giant cinnamon roll — a full foot in diameter — and a fundraising project that’s gathered more than $30,000 for the Oregon Food Bank.
A dash of cabin fever, a cup of flower and a social media video
Rutz then shared a time-lapse video of the jumbo roll-making process with her friends on social media.
“My friends were like, ‘I want one!’ One friend even offered to drive from Seattle to pick up a roll,” Rutz said.
The couped-up mom knew she had to come up with an idea to keep the rolls, well, rolling.
The next night, Rutz spoke with her husband about the buzz the giant cinnamon roll had created among her friends.
“I asked my husband how much people would pay for the cinnamon roll? I thought $50 bucks tops.”
So she decided to auction off a giant roll on social media, specifying that all proceeds would go to the Oregon Food Bank. The highest bid came in at $350.
“I said ‘OK, that was fun.’ I made the cinnamon roll and I delivered it on their porch.”
But then, the second roll auctioned off at $750. The top bidder payed up and suggested Rutz donate the gooey giant to someone in the health care field.
“I said ‘that’s a great idea! I donated it to a friend, and he took it to his nursing unit at Legacy Emmanuel.”
The rolls kept selling and Rutz kept sending the money to the food bank.
Comfort food rises to the occasion
After taking note of how much money Whitney was donating, the Oregon Food Bank called Rutz and offered to set up a fundraiser on its website. And now, for every $500 dollars donated to the food bank, Rutz makes a giant cinnamon roll to donate to health care workers in Portland.
“For every dollar, we can distribute three meals. So she has provided 90,000 meals to Portland and the entire Oregon Food bank network,” Susannah Morgan, chief executive officer of the Oregon Food Bank told CNN.
And during this pandemic, the food bank is experiencing a spike in requests for food assistance.
“I have been a food banker now for 24 years. This is the highest rates of hunger I have ever seen. Our system in a pre-pandemic month serves 260,000 people a month. We have seen 20 to 70% of increase in the last seven weeks,” Morgan shared. “This is a very difficult time for our community and our nation and Whitney has hit on a magical formula for serving our community with food, joy and love.”
Rutz is now baking more than 20 giant rolls a week with the help of her twin sister, Carrington Light, and a friend.
“It feels so good to focus on something positive and the generosity of people who are donating to a stranger in order for cinnamon rolls to be rolled out to health care workers. I feel like this wouldn’t have happened without the community.”