My friend Paula Pesmen, who runs There With Care, a nonprofit that helps families with critically ill children, and my friend Ashley Devery, who continues to raise money and has helped build a girls school in Tanzania, have taught me two things by example. Sometimes you just have to put it out there and trust the universe….I tried that on a small scale this year when I started my first annual valentine bake sale/cookie exchange for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit that takes money from bakes sales and other events across the country and donates it to pediatric cancer research. I chose Valentine’s Day because it is the birthday of Sam Johnson, a wonderful loving guy who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at about five months and lived until he was five. His mother Kate is one of my closest friends. I have always wanted to honor Sam and when I interviewed the amazing Gretchen Holt (yet another working mom who puts her heart out to the universe) and heard about Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, the organization she started as a way to give back after her son Liam was doing well with his battle, I felt compelled to try. In a horrible twist, Liam died last year at age five. His memorial service was on Valentine’s Day. The organization Gretchen started has already raised over four million dollars.
So here’s what I say: “Every f’in cookie counts!!”
I reached out to a bunch of very busy moms and daughters as well as distant friends and family and was treated to an outpouring of help, baked goods and checks. My idea was for everyone to bake (and sell) ten dozen cookies ahead of time to distribute to loved ones, teachers, colleagues, etc on Valentine’s Day. We suggested a ten dollar donation per dozen. We would all meet at my house for a party the Sunday before Valentine’s Day and created cookie bags from a mixture of everyone’s baking.
Here’s what happened… About ten days before the cookie exchange a mom I don’t know all that well sent me a note saying she was sorry she couldn’t make it and enclosed a check for $100. I started crying. From then on, I knew that everything was going to be okay and even if my cookie math sucked we were starting something wonderful. A few other moms who were too overscheduled come also handed me checks— as did my husband, my ex-husband, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and sisters-in- law. On the day of our cookie exchange, the lovely Tammy Selby had her monster cookies (I admit, I stole one and they were amazing!) and her cash dropped off by her adorable son, Adam, because she was at a volleyball tournament with her daughter Kennedy in Colorado Springs. Terri Szeto came by with two huge tupperware cases of gorgeous iced Valentine cookie hearts she and Sierra had baked and a large check as well as a matching one from her company, Oracle. Traci Hoops stopped by with a variety of cookies as she too would be spending the afternoon at a kid related sporting event. Our beloved art teacher Lori Llerandi sent in a donation as she was away at a board meeting with the above-mentioned Ashley Devery for the girls school in Africa Ashley helped to make a reality. Ashley sent money as well.
The gals who could make it began to assemble. Jenny Burton outdid Martha Stewart with her linzer tortes and Kristen Brynestad and Katie Johnson helped tie ribbon around every bag as the kids did an assembly line collection of cookies. Thankfully my friend and neighbor Katie Hubbard brought her youngest daughter (and our youngest volunteer) , Thayer, 8, who filled the biggest amount of bags. Sue Wristen baked on last minute notice. Dana Baccardi, who taught me everything I know about cookie exchanges, drove from Boulder even though her daughter was sick and she knew no one at the party. M.C. Vincent brought her constant good cheer, her extra tables, her many beautiful daughters and baked and donated with her massive heart. And the amazing Jaimi Hogan helped with math, spread sheets, encouragement, photography and cookies. In true Jaimi style she sold the most bags and created a thank you note photo collage for all of her donors. I could go on, but I think you get the embarassment of riches that surround me when it comes to people who make the effort with their time and giving spirit. I told them all about Sam and what an amazing guy he was. I was humbled by the whole thing. And I am proud to report that output of hearts and ovens raised $1995.!
I am already thinking about next year and expanding to a few more cities. My sister-in- law Michelle has volunteered for Pittsburgh and my friend Julie Grimes has volunteered to corral a Birmingham contingent with maybe some Texas recruits. So if any of you reading this are up for doing a Valentine Bake Sale for next year–we’d be thrilled to have you join our ranks. It was a great event and fantastic way to share the love we are all blessed to have on a day that celebrates love in general. Love, cookies, friendship, a little red candy for good measure and an important cause—a pretty perfect equation.