Gray Stone junior offers cake pops for widows to show ‘you are loved’

A 17-year-old junior at Gray Stone Day School is using her passion for service to spread love and joy in her community.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Victoria Eckman has partnered with The Mary and Martha Center For Women, an Albemarle-based advocacy and counseling center, to honor widows at local churches.

Wanting to get a head start on a service project she will need to complete next year as a senior, Eckman spoke with her mother, Dr. Connie Eckman, about finding a way to “give back to the elders in the community who have done so much for us.”

Aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increase in loneliness, she targeted a specific group who can often feel neglected and forgotten during special occasions like Valentine’s Day. She wanted to do something special to show them they are loved and appreciated.

“I loved the idea, and I thought it was so sweet,” said Dr. Jana Strukova, the founder and executive director of the Mary and Martha Center. As someone not from Stanly County — Strukova is from Slovakia — she can empathize with people who have lost loved ones and for whom Valentine’s Day can be painful.

“I get it. I understand the feelings of being far away from family and many feeling lonely around certain holidays,” Strukova added.

Eckman said she also contacted Gray Stone Chief Administrative Officer Helen Nance about her idea. She was impressed with the student’s desire to help others.

“I am very pleased that Victoria has chosen this project to work with her community,” Nance said. “Part of the mission of Gray Stone is to help students understand service to others. It takes time and dedication and Victoria is a perfect example of that.”

Despite her busy schedule as a student, Eckman was determined to make this project a success. She created a Facebook fundraiser a few weeks ago with the goal of raising $500 to purchase cake pops from Sassy Cakes Bakery in Locust. Each treat will have attached to it a note with the sentiment “You Are Loved.”

Less than 24 hours after creating the fundraiser, she achieved her goal. As of Friday morning, 15 people have already donated $600.

“It was great to see that there were so many people being so supportive of this,” Eckman said. “It was just great to see that it reached so many people and they knew that it was going to be for something good.”

Eckman’s efforts have also made an impression on Tamara Mayes, co-owner of the bakery.

“I definitely think it’s a wonderful idea and I think it’s something that is needed more often in the community,” she said. “She’s a super sweet girl and I’m glad she is doing this.”

Working with Strukova, Eckman has contacted five churches to get a number of how many cake pops would be needed. Having thus far heard from three Albemarle churches, First Baptist Church, First Lutheran Church and Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church, Eckman said she needs around 65 cake pops.

Eckman is looking to continue this project in the years to come, hopefully broadening the scope to include additional people who could benefit from the treats along with reaching out to more churches.

“Sometimes you do not need many words. You just need acts and gestures of kindness,” Strukova said. “The act of kindness and the message that it sends out is overpowering.”

For more information on the project, contact Strukova at maryandmarthacenter2015@gmail.com.