'Heartwarming' Meijer Cake Enthralls Facebook

A Michigan woman's photo of a Meijer cake went viral, but the retailer is oddly silent and the story hasn't been verified.

Published Dec 2, 2015

[green-label]NEWS:[/green-label] On 29 November 2015, Facebook user Lisa Sarber Aldrich shared the above-reproduced photograph of a Meijer cake along with the following text (initially to the photo's comments, later moved to the original post's body):

Picked out a cake at Meijer. Asked bakery-looking-employee if she could write on it for me. She said she would, and after a long time, she came and presented me with this cake. I looked her In the eye and said thank you before I even looked at the cake. After looking, I nervously laughed and headed to check out- it didn't really matter to me that it looked so bad- I thought people would think it was funny. The cashiers at the self check out didn't think it was so funny though, and called a few more cashiers and a manager over to look, even taking pictures. To my surprise, after they discussed it, one cashier put her arm on my shoulder and said "the girl who wrote that has Autism. Thank you for smiling and thanking her- even though she's not supposed to write on cakes, you probably made her day." So I guess the moral of the story is that kindness is important! — at Meijer Gaines Marketplace.

Per Aldrich's account, the decorated cake was purchased at the Gaines Marketplace Meijer in Caledonia, Michigan. Aldrich stated in the update that she asked a bakery employee to write "Happy Birthday Mandy" on a cake, and was somewhat surprised by the barely legible result. She said she went to the register and that other Meijer employees noticed the cake's appearance, subsequently informing her that the autistic employee who served her wasn't "supposed to write on cakes." Aldrich concluded that "kindness [was] important," noting that a different employee stated the cake inscribing probably "made [the bakery employee's] day."

One commenter in the original thread voiced concerns about the tale, expressing concern that the purportedly autistic employee might have been disciplined for the possible transgression. Aldrich replied, asserting she "wouldn't even let" Meijer provide the cake at a discount:

Right?! I told them not to worry about it, because I really didn't mind. I wouldn't even let them discount the cake. I hope she was ok after they talked to her- I'm sure they had to at least ask her not to write on any more cakes!

Aldrich's Meijer cake story quickly hooked Facebook users, and soon crossed over into non-social media as a "heartwarming" tale of "kindness" (despite the fact that the sole kindness expressed appeared to be declining a discount.) Today, MLive, WXMI, BuzzFeed, and Detroit Free Press were among media outlets which covered the inspirational tale.

Not everyone found Aldrich's tale moving; one commenter on Meijer's wall observed that the story appeared to involve a potential violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

It's both rude and illegal to disclose your employees' health and disability status without their consent. Furthermore, allowing your store to get positive attention for implying that people with autism/people on the autism spectrum are inherently less capable is deeply offensive and abelistic.

The commenter quoted a relevant portion of that law pertaining to disclosure of medical information in the workplace:

Under the ADA, employers must keep all information concerning the medical condition or history of their applicants or employees confidential. The information must be collected on a separate form and kept in a separate medical file, apart from an employee’s personnel file. Only staff that needs to know the medical information, usually direct supervisors and managers, should know this information. If co-workers inquire as to why a colleague seems to have accommodations, a different work schedule, or what is perceived as preferential treatment, the employer may only explain that they are acting for legitimate business reasons or to comply with federal law. Laws other than the ADA may have confidentiality requirements as well.

On Reddit's r/aspergers subreddit a user started a thread discussing their discomfort with the story's virality, opining that the tale felt condescending to people on the spectrum:

maybe i don't have authority to comment on something like this, seeing as aspergers is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum and it seems like the individual in this story, and other stories like this, has more severe/apparent autism. i guess i don't have a right to take it personally -- but it still annoys me.

like, i don't know, it just seems patronizing? i feel like it creates this stigma that people with autism should be treated like children, and that they should be praised when they do things like decorate a cake. people who "put up" with autistic people are treated like friggin heroes. it's honestly kind of degrading.

Reddit users in a separate subreddit took issue with elements of the narrative subtly mocking the employee's efforts:

If they didn't find it funny, why did they call everyone over and take pictures?

And the way she says she found it funny but the cashiers didn't makes it sound like she was making fun of the autistic woman, which really undermines what she's trying to do.

On 1 and 2 December 2015, Aldrich updated:

I am totally overwhelmed by God's goodness, and how he has used this cake story! I am sitting here weeping and reading through 100+ messages from people all over the country who have a loved one with Autism, thanking me. I just feel the need to say again- I didn't do anything special. Be nice. That is all. I can't believe how awesome God is that he is using this story to bless so many people! God is so, so good.

1. I am a real person. 2. This is not a Meijer marketing ploy. 3. I never asked for all this publicity, I just wanted...

Posted by Lisa Sarber Aldrich on Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Although the Meijer cake story spread like wildfire on social media and in "good news" sections of the web, the company has remained curiously silent. Meijer representatives don't appear to have replied to or even acknowledged any of the many posts to the brand's Facebook wall about the cake, and their Twitter reply timeline is similarly devoid of any comment on the story. As such, it wasn't clear that the claim was independently verified by anyone aside from Aldrich. (Update: A WXMI employee contacted us, stating the station verified Aldrich's claims with Meijer.) It's entirely possible that the story (whether or not readers found it heartwarming) was true as presented, but Meijer hasn't openly claimed credit in the avalanche of viral attention.


Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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