In February 2007, Gretchen Holt-Witt was stunned to learn that her 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Liam, had pediatric cancer. Also, stunning were the initial words from Liam’s doctor.
“One of the first things that Liam’s oncologist said to me was that kids don’t make headlines because nobody cares about a kid who gets cancer. And I said, ‘Well, you know what? You take care of my kid, and I will do everything I can to make sure that every kid gets a headline.’”
That was the motivation Witt, the director of public relations for OXO, needed to start raising awareness and funding for pediatric cancer, which is the No. 1 disease killer of children in the U.S., taking the lives of more children than asthma, AIDS, MS and muscular dystrophy combined. Witt decided to sell cookies to raise support, but this wasn’t just your everyday bake sale: With the help of her friends, she baked and sold 96,000 cookies, raising $420,000 in the process. From there, she took the idea national, and the nonprofit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer was launched in September 2008. Since its inception, there have been more than 3,000 events held across the country in 49 states (they’re just missing Vermont!) and in countries like Germany and Mexico. In just three years, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has raised $4 million.
Now, Witt has compiled some of the most popular bake sale recipes and tips in a new cookbook, “Best Bake Sale Cookbook,” with all author proceeds benefitting Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.
Sadly, two months ago, Liam lost his fight with the disease. But despite her loss, Witt has no plans of slowing the operation down.
“I have two choices,” she says. “I can either curl up in a ball and cry, or I can do what I know he would want me to do. When I see him again, the very first question he’s gonna ask me — after he tells me how awesome it’s been where he’s been — will be did I make it better for others. And I know I have to tell him yes, because he would expect nothing less.”
Witt’s tips for a successful bake sale
1. Label everything. This is especially helpful when you’re serving cookies that have nuts in them, in case of allergies.
2. Set up a cookie-decorating station. “Kids love to participate that way,” she says. And make sure you have wipes at the ready so everyone can tidy up their hands afterwards.
3. Individually wrap your items. “We find is that with a bake sale, people are walking by and they just wanna grab something and go, and it’s so much easier to just grab something that’s individually wrapped,” she says.
4. Don’t price anything. “We always ask people to make a donation because giving should be from the heart.”
The Cookie that Started it All: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: 3 to 4 dozen cookies
Chocolate chip cookies are universal favorites at bake sales, but this recipe was developed specifically for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer first bake sale — the 96,000-cookie one. No matter the season, these dense, buttery, yet light cookies — thanks to the oats — sell more than any other. Use the best-quality chocolate chips you can find. Don’t bother making these cookies if you are scrimping on chips!
2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
• Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
• Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla, one at a time, beating well between additions.
• Place the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl; mix well and add to the butter mixture. Beat until everything is well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the chocolate chips, and beat again.
• Form the dough into heaping-teaspoon-size balls and place them about 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Using your palm, gently press down. Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a log.
• Transfer to the oven and bake until the cookies begin to brown at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and repeat with the remaining dough.