RED WING — With 2020 high school graduates having some of the biggest moments of their lives turn sour, Bill Hanisch hopes to sweeten their experiences.

"I just want to do something for these kids who are losing two of the best months of their schooling life," said Hanisch, owner of Hanisch Bakery and Coffee Shop in Red Wing. "No prom, no spring sports, no spring musicals; these kids are missing out on a lot."

And while the COVID-19 pandemic will likely put a damper on those seniors' graduation parties as well, Hanisch said he felt moved to do something for local graduates in Red Wing and their families. But like any good idea, it began to spread.

Hanisch said he just wanted to help the seniors in Red Wing by offering a free 7-inch graduation cake. The two-layer round cake would be decorated in school colors – that's a lot of purple and white icing for those Wingers – and, he said, is the perfect size for a family celebrating while social distancing.

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While Hanisch was willing to donate the about 200 cakes for each of Red Wing High School's 2020 grads, word of what he'd done spread. A donor from Goodhue called saying they'd like to pay for grad cakes for the 25 or 30 graduates at Goodhue Public School. Another donor from Cannon Falls offered to pay for grad cakes for all the 2020 Bombers. And Hanisch, who knows his way around social media, mentioned it all on Facebook.

That's when Jennifer Walsh of Blooming Prairie spotted what Hanisch was up to.

"It popped up on Facebook, and I thought that is so cool," Walsh said.

Deciding she wanted to give cakes to all the Awesome Blossom grads, Walsh called the district to find out how many cakes she'd need. She sent Hanisch a message on Facebook and made the arrangements.

"No one is doing what Bill’s doing," Walsh said.

When Blooming Prairie lost its own bakery to a fire in November – her daughter got the last wedding cake from The Bakery before the disaster – the town lost its usual source of graduation cakes, Walsh said.

"The small towns around Blooming Prairie, none of them have bakeries," she said, adding the nearest options were in Austin or Owatonna. "There's not a mom-and-pop bakery near us."

The free cakes have spread even farther. Zumbrota, Lake City, three towns in Wisconsin, all have donors who bought cakes for their graduates. Hanisch said a couple of other towns have reached out as well. Plus, other bakeries have asked him how the free grad cake deal started, and how they can replicate the offer for grads in their areas.

"It was just a kind of crazy idea I had," Hanisch said, adding he's charging donors the cost of baking and packaging the cakes. "I hope it turns into something bigger than just what I’m doing. Anything we can do to brighten the seniors' end of the year."