By David Oeters
I didn’t know what to expect at my first Cookies 4 Cancer event. I heard the word cookies, saw the names of so many respected local chefs participating, and knew I had to go.
I first tried a sugar cookie made by a local high school student named Sarah Stumpf. She labeled them “Cookies for College,” and when she wasn’t raising money for cancer treatment, she baked them to pay college tuition.
I was in sugar heaven by the first bite. Tender and sweet, it seemed to melt in my mouth in a delicious flavor explosion that sent shivers down my spine. “How is it?” I asked my three-year old son, who gripped his cookie in both hands as he ate quickly so he could try another.
“No Daddy,” he said. “This one is my cookie.” I couldn’t blame him for suddenly forgetting to share. Sarah Stumpf and her sugar cookies make a great story, but the room was filled with great stories, including how Cookies 4 Cancer in Cincinnati began.
An Opportunity to do More
Cookies 4 Cancer began as a homework assignment in an Events II class at Antonelli College in West Chester, Ohio. The instructor, Elizabeth Reid, was a retired event planner who managed events all over the world. She gave her students – Tonya Daniels-Carpenter, Anita Colon, and Alliee Reeves – an assignment to plan and execute an event from start to finish. The goal of Antonelli College is to graduate students prepared for a career.
From the beginning, the students saw the assignment as an opportunity to do more than just earn a grade, but give back to the community and make a difference in people’s lives. “We figured if we can do any event, why not do something to help others?” said Alliee. With a wealth of worthy causes to choose from, they looked close to home for two families the students knew who were struggling against cancer. “(The idea behind Cookies 4 Cancer is to) help relieve some of the financial burden families had due to this life changing illness,” said Anita.
With their goal to raise money and support the local families, the students began putting the pieces in place for Cookies 4 Cancer. The concept was simple – local chefs and amateur bakers would submit their best cookies for judging, and the public could then purchase cookies with all proceeds going to the families. With more than just a grade at stake with the event, there was added stress involved in bringing everything together. The practical, real-world lessons taught at Antonelli College gave them a strong foundation as they worked.
Overcoming Problems to Find Success
From the beginning the students knew organizing the event wouldn’t be easy, especially since they were in school, working other jobs, and facing a tight deadline. “Because this was a class assignment,” explained Tonya. “We had a limited time to pull off the event.” Finding celebrity judges was easy, but lining up competitors was more difficult. “Many professionals were reluctant to participate,” the students explained. “They were willing to donate cookies, but not have their company represented the day of the event.”
In addition, the Cookies 4 Cancer student committee had to find a venue, line up workers, determine how to collect money, work on publicity and marketing, collect donations for not only cookies but also prizes and awards, and coordinate entertainment. “There are a lot of details (involved) in pulling an event together,“ said Allie. “It takes time and patience to execute and bring a dream or vision into reality.” The lessons they learned in class, and the experience of Antonelli College staff, helped keep them on track and gave them the tools they needed to bring it all together. This included focusing on excellence, working as a team, and keeping the overall vision in mind as decisions were made.
In the end, the hard work and dedication paid off. Local newspapers and television stations heard about the event, and after two interviews and several articles, more competitors began contacting the students. Donations started pouring in, and everything came together.
The day of the event, amateur and professional bakers packed the room, all focused on raising money to support two local Cincinnati families fight cancer. Tables were placed in the center of the room, but they sat empty as the public browsed the entrant’s tables lining the walls, tasting cookies and talking to the bakers. Pictures of family members and friends honored by the culinary creations sat on many tables. Chocolate chips, ginger cookies, frosted, powdered sugar or sprinkles decorating cookies of all shapes, sizes and colors gave a surreal edge to Cookies 4 Cancer. “I’ve never been to an event like this,” one entrant said as she handed me a sample chocolate-lovers cookie (delicious!). “I’m here for my sister fighting breast cancer in Texas.”
Chefs mingled behind the tables, sharing cookie secrets, talking about the culinary arts, or just sharing a moment with others who loved cookies and knew someone with cancer. Visitors toured the room, sampled cookies and spoke to the judges, before selecting bags of their favorite cookies. Most gave a little more before they left. “It’s a good cause, and the cookies taste so good,” one woman told me as we waited in line.
In the end, everyone at Cookies 4 Cancer left a winner, no matter who the judges selected. I didn’t get the chance to try the winning cookie.
They were gone by the time I made it to that table, but I heard it was a cookie with a homegrown raspberry in the middle.
“It’s scary knowing that how the event turns out depends on the efforts we put into it,” said Anita Colon. “And that so many people are depending on us.” But it would be argue against the results when a crowd of cookie lovers come together on a Saturday to help fight cancer.