I'm thrilled to be involved with the annual Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sale this weekend in Amagansett (I've been working out my baking skills all week). The story behind this incredible charity starts with the persevering spirit of Gretchen Holt-Witt and her son Liam. Her concept for raising awareness of pediatric cancer with a bake sale is rooted in community involvement, which really resonates with me. So I decided to snag a few moments with Gretchen to find out more...
And if you're in the area stop by the bake sale this Saturday, July 7th
3—6:00pm in Amagansett Square in the Hamptons
If you can't make it out this weekend, here's information on donating.
(Gretchen and her son Liam)
Your second Cookies for Kids' Cancer cookbook is due out next spring; how did you develop the concept?
I didn't exactly follow the typical path. A dear friend, Sally Sampson, who donated the recipes for the first baking event kept saying that we should do a cookbook to spread the word even further about Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. We were very fortunate to meet with an amazing editor at John Wiley & Sons who also saw the vision and together we decided we had the makings for a compelling cookbook. But, we didn’t just want to have a typical cookbook.
(The first Cookies for Kids' Cancer Cookbook)
To us, the recipe for a successful book included both the tangible assets – the recipes – but also the intangible assets which were the stories of people who have held their own events and tips on how to host a successful event. The book, The Cookies for Kids’ Cancer Best Bake Sale Cookbook, has more than 65 foolproof recipes perfect for bake sales and dozens of profiles of bake sale hosts from across the country. One thing to mention about the book, which at $19.99 is a great deal, all author profits go directly to pediatric cancer research.
(A sneak peek at the photoshoot for the second cookbook, due out Spring 2013.)
Holding a bake sale conjures a lot of nostalgia for childhood and helps to create a sense of community. Can you expand on how you came up with the bake sale concept?
After the first mega bake-a-thon and long after we stopped selling cookies, people kept getting in touch with us asking us how they could involved in their community. They heard what we were doing. They were inspired. They wanted to see the magic continue. Hosting a Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sale seemed to us to be the perfect way for people to get involved in their community whether they baked a few cookies and had a bake sale at work or baked a few thousand cookies and hold a large-scale event. To us, it didn’t matter what people did…we just wanted them to be "Good Cookies".
Any sweet moments from past bake sales?
One of the things we find so surprising is how people always thank US for the opportunity to get involved. It completely blows me away…even after thousands of events. Here are people who have decided to get involved and make a difference in the lives of children and they are thanking us?! How can that be? But there’s something magical that happens when people are Good Cookies.
How can people set up a bake sale in their area?
Visit the Cookies for Kids' Cancer website. From there, you can read about tips for success, see pictures of other events, order a bake sale kit filled with all the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer branded items you need to help raise awareness and funds, and of course, register your event.
Tell us how Cookies for Kids’ Cancer started?
In early 2007, my incredibly sweet son Liam was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. What came as a total surprise to me, almost as much as his cancer diagnosis, was finding out that cancer is the number one disease killer of children in the U.S. Number one. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. One of the things Liam’s oncologist said to me is that the reason people don’t know this fact is because kids with cancer don’t make headlines the way adults do. He dejectedly told me that no one cares about a kid who is diagnosed with cancer.
I’ll never forget that day. And I made a promise to myself that after Liam* was out of the danger zone, I would see what I could do to help shed some light on the needs surrounding pediatric cancer.
Eight grueling months later, Liam was cancer free and my husband and I felt incredibly blessed to see our son thriving and back in school. It was October. The holidays were coming up. I knew that people would soon be searching for the perfect holiday gift – one that not only felt good to give but that the recipient felt good about receiving. But what? What could I do? A car wash in cold winter months didn’t seem like a good idea, so I thought about things that people like to do around the holidays and came up with baking. I loved to bake. It was one of the things I cherished doing for friends and family during the holidays. But more importantly, I knew a lot of people who also loved to bake. So as I sat on the steps of Liam’s preschool, I decided I would bake holiday cookies, put them in pretty packaging and sell them during the holidays as a pediatric cancer research fundraiser.
We had just rescued Liam from the grips of cancer, so how hard could it be to bake some cookies? The short version of the answer is that it was a LOT harder than I thought with so many challenges and moving pieces and parts. But with the help of more than 250 determined volunteers, many of whom I didn’t know, but who heard about the project, we did it. In nine days we sold out of all 96,000 cookies and after 18 consecutive days of baking, packaging and shipping, raised more than $420,000 which helped to fund a pediatric cancer therapy that became available in 2011.
After the ovens cooled from the incredibly odyssey of the massive bake-a-thon, my husband and I realized we had hit a chord with people. We found a way to get people involved in pediatric cancer in a way that wasn’t scary. After months of planning, we launched Cookies for Kids’ Cancer as a year-round organization in September 2008, Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Since then more than 4,000 events across the country from bake sales to bowl-a-thons have been registered and millions of dollars have been raised and granted to the leading pediatric cancer research facilities around the country. Today we also sell cookies year round and just like the first massive bake-a-thon in 2007, 100% of the profit of our cookies goes to supporting pediatric cancer research.
*Note: On January 24th 2011, Liam Witt lost his battle with cancer. He was six years, eight months and nine days old. His memorial service was attended by more than 800 people including 120 New York City firefighters who honored Liam as a member of the New York City fire department. The little boy who lived life to the fullest by loving with no reservations, continues to inspire his family and friends who live life following the last three words his mother spoke during his eulogy: Love Like Liam.
Head to the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer website for more information.