Isabella Szklany, Reporter

The holiday season is upon us, and everyone is stringing up their lights, buying their gifts, and getting ready to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year.” It is also the time of the year when a lot of people spread holiday cheer by giving back to those in need, through volunteering their time or by donating money, food, or clothes.

This year, I got the opportunity to volunteer as a memory maker for Baking Memories 4 Kids. Baking Memories 4 Kids is a non-profit organization that sends children with a life- threatening illness and their families on all-expense paid vacations to Orlando, Florida. Baking Memories 4 Kids provides children and their families who usually would not be able to go on these vacations a chance to visit all of Florida’s amusement parks while making lifelong memories.

This fall, St. Thomas Aquinas College Communication Arts students are participating in a semester-long service-learning project for Baking Memories 4 Kids. Students have created social media content, organized promotional events, and formed a comprehensive public relations plan to reach college-aged students.
On Nov. 9, I joined over 100 volunteers in baking, packing, and shipping 80,000 chocolate chip cookies to be given as thank-you gifts to those who donate $30 to the organization. Each holiday season, Baking Memories 4 Kids sells tins of chocolate chip cookies, using a secret family recipe, and all the money made is put towards sending children on these vacations.

(Photo by Isabella Szklany): These are just some of the 80,000 cookies baked on Nov. 9 that will all be sold this holiday season.

Frank Squeo, founder and CEO of Baking Memories 4 Kids, started the organization after his battle with stage three testicular cancer and discovered many sick children beside him during his cancer treatments. Squeo knew that if these children died tomorrow, they would not be able to experience the beautiful life he was able to have. Once Squeo entered into remission, he made it his life mission for these children to have the opportunity to make lifelong memories.

A start time of 8 a.m. on a Saturday does not stop over 100 memory makers as they are all ready to get to work and help make a child’s dream come true. Volunteers gather at Rockland Boces, tired but excited to bake delicious cookies. Upon entering volunteers check in and are assigned to either the baking or packing room.

Measuring the flour, cracking the eggs, mixing the dough, lining the sheet trays and placing the cookies in the oven, a smell of sweetness and holiday cheer spreads throughout the kitchen. Volunteers are scattered all around the kitchen, working together to bake cookies from scratch to be packaged into hundreds of Baking Memories 4 Kids tins.

(Photo by Isabella Szklany): Cookies baking to perfection in the oven.

I was in the packaging department, where we started the day, placing labels into hundreds of tins. Once each tin had a Baking Memories 4 Kids label, a plastic bag was added to hold over one pound of cookies. Baking Memories 4 Kids takes great care in making sure that each donor has an enjoyable cookie experience by making sure that the tins are inviting as possible.

The packing team were the first people to see the cookies right out of the oven. Just an hour and a half after arriving at Rockland Boces, cookies exited the oven, cooled down, and were carefully examined to make sure they were baked to perfection. Cookies not perfectly cooked were put into a reject pile for all the memory makers to eat. After filling hundreds of tins with cookies, they were sealed and packaged to be delivered to cookie lovers all around the country.

Baking Memories 4 Kids provided all memory makers with a pizza lunch, where Squeo made a special speech, thanking all who came out and spent their day baking and packing cookies. According to Squeo, the cookies created from Nov. 9 and 10 will send up to 13 families on once-in-a-lifetime dream vacations to Orlando, Florida. Squeo highlighted the great work that Baking Memories 4 Kids has accomplished and put a value on volunteering during the holiday season. Squeo emphasized that even though it might seem like a lot to give up one’s entire day, every memory maker is making a positive impact on the lives of children with a terminal illness.

Kathryn Cambrea, a Communication Arts student from St. Thomas Aquinas College, was one of the memory makers at the event. “You could immediately sense walking into Rockland Boces how caring people in the community are and the incredible initiative of Baking Memories 4 Kids. I am really happy that I had the opportunity to help this organization by packing cookies and bonding with fellow volunteers,” says Cambrea.

Although I only volunteered one day, I felt as if I had become a memory maker for life. Helping out an organization, such as Baking Memories 4 Kids, reminds me of how good it feels to help those in need. Spending the day packing cookies that will be sold to send families to Orlando, Florida, who never would have gone without Baking Memories 4 Kids, reminds me of how much a difference one can make in the lives of others.

Reflecting on this day, it is more than just a day of baking cookies or meeting new people. It is helping to make a positive impact on the lives of others. The holiday season is a time where people are happy and excited to celebrate, but this is not true of everyone. By giving up one day of my life, I am helping to give a struggling family something to look forward to this year. Taking the time out of my day during the holiday season reminds me that the real purpose of the holidays is ensuring that everyone has something to celebrate during the “most wonderful time of the year.”