My brother Randy was diagnosed with ALS in the Fall of 2009 at the age of 61. A few months earlier he had begun to experience a weakness in one leg that eventually led to his diagnosis. While the average life expectancy for ALS patients following diagnosis is 2-5 years, my brother died within a year and a half on April 19, 2011. In the months Randy lived with ALS he experienced loss after loss as the ALS progressed rapidly and savagely through his body. He lost the ability to walk and stand, to drive a car, to pull up his own pants, to get in and out of bed unaided, to breathe comfortably on his own, to eat, to drink, and to speak. By the time my brother died ALS had taken so much from him bit by bit but it never touched a single measure of his brilliant mind, playful humor, compassionate heart, generous and kind spirit, or the love he had for others and the love that was returned to him from every direction. Even ALS has its limits.
Even while Randy was confronting the progressive devastation of ALS in his own life, he spoke often and with great compassion about others living with the same disease. He shared his hope that when he was gone our family would continue to help those living with ALS and in a broader sense to do something to offer help wherever there was a need. That’s what led me to dream about what I could do to create a lasting legacy for my brother that might make a difference for those living with ALS.
When it came to finding a way to honor my brother’s life I wanted to offer my best and as it happens I probably bake better than I do just about anything else including yodeling and interpretive dance. In the last months of Randy’s life, I baked him hundreds of cookies and when he was no longer able to eat them he took pleasure in handing out bags of coldies to anyone who stopped by to visit. “You can’t leave unless you take some cookies. My sister made them.” Watching my brother sitting in his wheelchair grinning with a bag of cookies extended toward a friend is the moment when I realized that a cookie is never just a cookie and the act of working with your hands to create something beautiful and sweet holds far more than calories and carbs alone. That’s when I began baking with a purpose and passion. In tribute to my brother I started Sweet Hope Cookies in 2011, donating 100% of all the money I earned to support The ALS Association. One cookie at a time I was able to raise over $25,000 in just over three years.
One Sweet Community of Compassion
Yet I’m only one baker with one oven, and I wanted to do more to help those living with ALS than I could ever do alone, and so it seemed only natural to invite others to join me and I knew just where to turn. Over the past several years an online community of bakers around the globe with hearts as big as their cookie cutter collections have made connections and friendships and together they’ve used their talents and bags of flours to bake a difference in our world. They’ve shipped thousands of cookies to soldiers serving far from home in Operation Cookie Takeover. They’ve donated some of their most beautiful works of sugar art to benefit children with cancer through the annual Go Bo Foundation Bake Sale. Whether it’s children with life-threatening illnesses, families grieving the loss of a child, an entire town gathering to mourn the death of a child in their community, or victims of natural disaster, the baking world has responded by donating both finances and cookies time and time again. Speckled across social media are bakers who connect in small groups for no other purpose than to shower cookies on children, adults, and families whenever the need for human kindness and compassion will mean the most.
In June 2015, with only a few weeks notice I asked this flour-flecked community of bakers if they’d be willing to join me in Bake to Defeat ALS and the response was an overwhelming “Sign me up!” During the four weeks of August bakers from around the United States, and countries as far away as the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Norway baked and sold cookies, cupcakes, cakes and every kind of sweet confection, donating some, or in most cases, all of the money from the sale of their treats to fight ALS through funding medical research, social awareness, and providing assistance for those living today with ALS. Families held bake sales in their neighborhoods. Employees placed platters of donuts and donation cups in their office staff rooms. One baker raffled off one of her cakes at her local Williams-Sonoma and another bakery raffled an extravagant and stunning table loaded down with custom-made desserts of every kind. Home bakeries and storefront bakeries donated portions of their regular sales, or held cookie decorating classes, donating the student fees, and our online network of ‘mom and pop’ baking supply shops gave and gave and then gave some more. #BakeToDefeatALS was popping up everywhere on social media and at the end of four weeks, together we raised more than $30,000!
It took one baker more than 3 years to raise $25,000 but it only took a community of bakers 30 days to raise $30,000! This July, we’ll be joining together once again for Bake To Defeat ALS 2016! Whether you craft elegant wedding cakes or bake brownies from a box, we invite you to join us this year in baking a difference!