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Moms bake to help sick kids

There's no force like moms on a mission to help other mothers in crisis. How bake sales can bring out the best in us:

When she gives the graduation speech on Mother's Day at her alma mater, Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., Gretchen Holt Witt will share the value of a giving spirit.

"Your greatest gift is to give of yourself," says Witt. Her story starts with two Cs: Cancer and cookies.

After her son Liam was diagnosed at 2 with neuroblastoma in early 2007, she recruited 250 volunteers and had a giant bake sale as a fundraiser. The success of the sale -- $400,000 raised -- inspired Witt and her husband, Larry, to launch Cookies for Kids' Cancer to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

"When women bake, it's their way of showing love," says Emily Fowler, the only paid employee of Cookies for Kids' Cancer. The company is based in New Jersey.

Nobody wants to look at pediatric cancer. It's deadly. It's scary. It's easier to look away. "Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children between infancy and age 15," according to a report by the National Cancer Institute.

Liam has gone through aggressive treatment that has included chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor in his abdomen, radiation and antibody therapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"By Gretchen introducing this sweet angel, hosting a bake sale, suddenly that resonates," says Fowler, a mother of two. "Moms can get their hearts into it. They can latch onto the idea of a bake sale."

In January, Women's Day magazine named Witt one of its "Women Who Are Changing the World." The mom's motto: "If we all do a little, together it adds up to a lot."

Another inspired group is a team of planners, bakers, packers and sellers working toward a Cookies for Kids' Cancer bake sale as part of "Taylor's Finish Line Festival" in May. Taylor Gibbs, the son of J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, and his wife, Melissa, was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, and is in remission.

The culinary school Johnson and Wales has donated cooking space. The festival will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte.

Part of a "new normal" for families who have a child battling cancer is helping to raise awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research. Family support at cancer centers also connects moms who are just starting out with those who have been fighting pediatric cancer for years.

For Gretchen Holt Witt, Feb. 26 marked the third anniversary of Liam's diagnosis. She wrote recently in a blog: "Three long years that have gone by faster than I can say the terribly, ugly word: neuroblastoma. In three years I haven't exercised, been to a dentist or done many of the other things I used to do BC [before cancer]."

Despite all she gives up, she still keeps the mommy momentum going with her cookie business for cancer.


How you can help

Through Cookies for Kids' Cancer, participants from across the country hold local sales and send the profits to the charity. The money is then directed to pediatric cancer centers for research and to fund clinical trials. For more information, including recipes and tips on how to throw the most successful bake sales, visit


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