How many cookies should you bake for a fundraiser? 50, 100? Maybe even 500?
Well, when Gretchen Witt, a mother and public relations consultant, was planning her bake sale, she decided to go big or go home — and set out to bake 96,000.
"I kind of felt like why not try it? What’s the worst that can happen, I fail?" she recalls. "And then what? People are going to get mad because I tried?"
After all, she had an amazing and important cause to support: pediatric cancer research.
That journey started in 2007, when her son, Liam, was diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of two. "I didn’t know that cancer was [still] the #1 disease killer of children in the U.S.," she says.
That realization lit a fire under her.
All photos provided by Gretchen Witt.
"All you have to do is spend 10 minutes on a pediatric cancer floor, and you’ll be like, sign me up! I’ll do whatever. I’ll bake 96,000 cookies!"
The I Care I Cure Childhood Cancer Foundation reports that, in comparison with adult cancers, pediatric cancer research is underfunded — leaving many kids without access to the best (and safest) possible treatments.
That’s why when Liam was declared cancer-free a little more than a year later, Witt was ready to fight for other kids like him.So, she rounded up a team of volunteers and got to baking.
"I wanted to do something that anyone could get involved in, no matter where they were, or how old they were or young they were," she says. "Something that would bring people together."
Almost a hundred thousand cookies later, Witt had raised over $420,000 for pediatric cancer research.
That’s when she realized she was onto something — people who might not otherwise know much about pediatric cancer were totally fired up about it.
"[We] allowed people to enter into the world of pediatric cancer in a way that wasn’t scary or frightening," she says. "[Instead of showing them] a picture of a kid with a bald head and saying, 'Here, I want to talk to you about this,' we could ease them in."
That "one-time" fundraiser was only the beginning. Within the year, Witt founded Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit committed to raising funds for pediatric cancer research.
Through that nonprofit, Witt was able to inspire people around the country to host their own events, including grassroots bake sales, to create awareness and raise funds for better treatment options for kids with cancer. And Witt herself, of course, is still selling delicious cookies.
Since its founding in 2008, there have been more than 8,500 events — in every single state in the country and 18 countries around the world — organized by ordinary people for an extraordinary cause.
And while Liam’s cancer did return and eventually claimed his life — a battle he lost in 2011 — Witt always knew that it was a fight much bigger than them both.
Even through her grief, Witt refused to give up on her nonprofit.
"It was never [just] about Liam; it was about the journey that those kids went through," she says. "[We’re] doing what Liam would want us to do, which is to make it better for others."
Not long after Liam passed away, Witt was recognized for her efforts when she received the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth award. "To be recognized like that on such a scale — it just adds fuel to your gas tank, to keep going," she says.
And she did keep going. To date, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has raised nearly $16 million and counting.
"As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t done anything special ... how could I not get involved?" she says. "[Anyone] can contribute. It just requires having a heart and deciding you want to help kids."
Witt’s efforts are a reminder that each and every one of us can make a difference, no matter who or where we are.
In the face of something as scary as pediatric cancer, it’s easy to feel powerless or intimidated. But Witt dug deep and found the determination to do something — and it all started with a bake sale.
Having seen firsthand the tenacity of children with cancer who refuse to give up each day, Witt knows just how powerful it is to remain hopeful. And that same courage, she says, is what she wants to offer others.
"The worst thing in the world is to not have hope," she says. "But I’m in the business of giving people a purpose and giving people hope."