A newsmaker you should know: Washington waitress bakes birthday treats for her 220 co-workers

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The folks who work with Melanie Lemley are lucky — she bakes them treats on their birthdays. Each of Ms. Lemley’s 220 co-workers receives cupcakes and sugar cookies on their birthdays, something she does because she “wants to see a smile on their face.”

Ms. Lemley, of Washington, Pa., started making treats for the employees at Friendship Village of South Hills nearly a year ago and has baked for almost every one of her co-workers.

“This April was the most —– 37 people have birthdays in April,” said Ms. Lemley, who is a waitress at Friendship Village, an assisted living facility in Upper St. Clair.

Ms. Lemley started baking when she was young. Now 39, she said her love for baking has only grown over the years.

“I love to bake. I hate to cook, but I love to bake,” she said.

While she was a student at Trinity High School, she started working as a waitress at Eat'n Park and immediately loved the job. 

“I love to waitress. I just like helping people and talking with them — I really get to know them at Friendship Village,” she said.

Ms. Lemley worked at Eat'n Park for 10 years before she left to work in the activities department of a nursing home. But she discovered that she missed waitressing.

“I wanted to get back to it,” she said.  

She has been at Friendship Village for more than 14 years, time that has allowed her to develop friendships with many of the residents and her co-workers.

“You spend more time with the people you work with than you do your own family. These residents are like my family — I see them every day,” she said.

For years, she routinely brought in baked goods for her co-workers. Then last year, she decided to bring in birthday treats. She estimates that she has missed only two or three employees who were on vacation during their birthdays.

Sometimes she has to go into work early or stay later to catch a fellow employee.

“If someone isn’t on the same shift as me, I stick around to meet them. I’ve met a lot of new people because of it,” she said.

For each birthday, Ms. Lemley makes three or four mini-cupcakes and two or three sugar cookies. She usually bakes on Sunday and refrigerates the cakes and cookies until the actual birthday during the week.

She said she bakes for her co-workers because she likes to make them happy.

Reactions have ranged from simple thanks to one woman who burst into tears.

“She told me she was having a really bad day, and I gave her a big hug,” Ms. Lemley said.

Her efforts do not go unnoticed.

“It's unbelievable that Melanie has the heart to make every one of her fellow team members feel special on their birthdays,” said Kelly Michel, arts and communications coordinator at Friendship Village. “I think everyone peeks in the lounge each morning to see if she gave us all a treat that day. She is truly special to work with.”

When Ms. Lemley celebrated her own birthday on March 15, co-workers gave her four cakes and a bouquet of flowers. Her husband also gave her a cake as did her fellow bowlers in at the league where she plays.

“I was on a sugar high for a week,” she joked.

Ms. Lemley said receiving the cakes and flowers made her realize why her fellow employees are so grateful for her homemade treats.

“When I started, I never pictured people would react the way they do and look forward to it so much. After my birthday, I knew how they feel — and that made me even happier that I do it,” she said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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