Giant cinnamon rolls raise money, feed 'bellies and souls'

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In this April 26, 2020, image from video provided by Whitney Rutz, Whitney Rutz, right, and husband, Paul, stand near several decorated boxes to hold large cinnamon rolls in their home in Portland, Ore. The Rutz family has helped raise thousands of dollars for Oregon Food Bank. (Whitney Rutz via AP)

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 heath 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.

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.”