When they were in the fifth grade, Meaghan Robinson and Ila Newman were looking for a way to help children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) attend school. Little did they know that in just six years they would have baked more than 5,000 cookies – and raised $6,000.
They knew about the need because their families sponsored children in the DRC, since even public school there requires tuition. “We realized kids there don’t get to go to school without money,” Robinson said. “We’re so lucky.”
In the first year of what they dubbed Cookies for Congo, they turned out 60 dozen cookies, which they sell by the baker’s dozen. They’d hoped to raise $250 and were excited when they brought in $600.
“It helped us see what something like this could accomplish, and what a difference it could make,” Robinson said.
Still, they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. They chalked it up to “childhood naïveté,” Newman said. “We thought, ‘This is fun – we’re baking cookies!’” Robinson said.
Their peak was 120 dozen cookies, but that proved too much for a home kitchen. Robinson is convinced that baking cookies ’round the clock for four days straight was responsible for the failure of her family’s oven. This year they sold 80 dozen – almost 1,000 cookies.
Newman and Robinson have been making the same three cookie varieties since the beginning – molasses ginger, oatmeal chocolate chip, and gluten-free chocolate chip.
The molasses and oatmeal cookies are tried-and-true recipes from Robinson’s great-grandmother. “My family eats a lot of cookies, so we knew they were good,” she said.
But the gluten-free cookies required their well-honed baking skills to achieve the optimal crispy-chewy balance.
They dedicate a long weekend in November to the cookies. They fold boxes Thursday evening, then assemble and measure ingredients, make dough, fill baking sheets, and bake over the weekend. “By mid-Saturday, we’re in the ‘We Hate Cookies’ phase,” Robinson said. Then they deliver the cookies.
While mixing and baking hundreds of cookies is already a big job, Newman and Robinson’s work starts earlier, when they order all the ingredients and supplies – about 25 pounds each of flour and sugar, 10 to 15 pound of chocolate chips, and 15 pounds of butter, plus eggs and spices.
The girls have also learned about market timing. One year, they offered the cookies in February, but lingering New Year’s diet resolutions made that less fruitful. But during the holiday season, some customers eagerly buy as many as eight dozen cookies to give as gifts or serve at parties.
And they’ve streamlined the process. Robinson learned to create spreadsheets so they can organize all the orders, ingredients and delivery schedule.
Their first customers came from people at the Methow Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the Methow Valley United Methodist Church, many already familiar with the Peniel House project in the DRC that valley residents Linda and Wayne Mendro support.
Newman and Robinson liked the personal connection with kids at Peniel House. Seeing photos of the children they’re helping made it seem especially real, Robinson said. “These are actual people – this kid can’t go to school,” she said.
The Mendros started partnering with the Peniel orphanage in 2010, finding sponsors to send children to school. They’ve also supported other projects there, including a medical fund and helping buy a building to house about 35 children, Wayne Mendro said.
Today about 156 children are sponsored, by people in the Methow and beyond – even in Tokyo. Helping people across the globe is a reminder that we’re all connected, Mendro said.
Newman and Robinson have also donated their cookie earnings to purchase mosquito netting to protect children from malaria. “We get to go to school – we take it for granted,” Newman said. “For these kids, school is a big deal. They have to pay a lot.”
“It’s just incredible what these girls do,” Mendro said.
To be notified about next year’s cookie sale, email email@example.com. For more information about Peniel, visit www.penielorphanage.org.