Comforting cakes during COVID

Dot Stokes, Elaine Maslen and Leonie Benson enjoy a cuppa, a slice of cake and a chat. Photo Anne Keen
Dot Stokes, Elaine Maslen and Leonie Benson enjoy a cuppa, a slice of cake and a chat. Photo Anne Keen

When Elaine Maslen was confronted with the prospect of being isolated during the COVID lockdown early last year, she decided to reach out to others she knew were also living alone.

She picked two people a day out of the Gloucester phone book to call and see if they wanted to chat.

"I got a couple of replies but I felt it wasn't enough," Elaine said.

She'd come across a fruit cake recipe she liked and started baking, making four per batch. Then she packed them up and got in the car. Much like during the months she was making cold calls to people, she rocked up on their doorsteps unannounced with cake in hand.

For Dot Stokes, it was a surprise that made a huge impact. When Elaine knocked on her door in August 2020, she had no idea that it was the day before Dot's son's 21st birthday. Dot would normally make her way to the Northern Territory to be with him, but due to restrictions she was unable to visit.

"It was amazing when I was all alone," Dot recalled. "It was totally unexpected and it made all the difference."

Elaine and Dot didn't really know each other before that day, but after sharing a cuppa and a slice of cake, they became better acquainted.

"The cake was so nice, I ate the lot at once," Dot smiled.

Back in June 2020, shortly after Leonie Benson had moved her husband, Stuart, into a nursing home, Elaine paid her a visit.

"Saturdays are a down day for me and Elaine showed up. She was just a smiling face at the door with a cake on a silver platter," Leonie said.

Not only did Elaine deliver a cake but after noting during their conversation that Leonie was running low on wood, Elaine organised for her son to stop by the next day with a load in tow.

Elaine knows what it's like to live alone having lost her husband, Gordon, 15 years ago. And having lived in Gloucester her whole life, she knows a fair few people in town.

She ended up baking 140 cakes.

She reckons being community-minded is just the way she was raised. Her father was on council and her mother used to teach women how to drive after their husbands had died. And together, Elaine and Gordon were both heavily involved in community activities.

Spending an hour or so with people three times a week also helped Elaine. She is a very social person with lots of energy and at 84 years of age, she's not even close to slowing down.