A mom turns grief into public awareness and research funding, one cookie at a time. Gretchen Holt Witt: Founder of Cookies for Kids' Cancer, Califon, N.J.

Updated: June 09, 2014
Virgil Bastos

Gretchen first had the idea to bake cookies as a way to raise money for children's cancer research in 2007, after her then-3-year-old son Liam had finished his own cancer treatments. "I wanted to come up with something that was so easy anybody could do it anywhere—something so innocent and warm and friendly and inviting that people couldn't turn away." In the beginning, Gretchen and 250 volunteers baked 96,000 cookies and raised $420,000 for pediatric cancer research. Today, this grassroots organization (cookiesforkidscancer.org) helps people set up bake sales across the country, sending 100% of profits to fund the fight against pediatric cancer.

Gretchen likes to tell the story of two women from Bay Minette, Alabama: "These ladies decided to have a bake sale. They had never had one before, but they set their fund-raising goal at $1,000. They raised over $10,000 and sent me letters saying that experience ranked up in their lives as equally important as the days they got married and had their children," Gretchen says. "Something magical happens every time people have a bake sale. It's this power of being a good cookie, the affirmation of moving in the right direction."

The empowerment of doing something is also what helps keep Gretchen going. "The awful twist is that we started this when Liam was cancer-free, and then we lost him. So as much as I would like to curl up in a ball and cry, I have to do it for him," she says.

She turned her love for entertaining into charitable fund-raising success.