Whitefish Bay - The smell of cookies is in the air in Whitefish Bay.
More than 200 Whitefish Bay kids spent last weekend mixing cookie dough, crushing up candies and loading cookie sheets into ovens across 15 households in the village. The kids are also planning to bake next weekend, in order to make their annual quota of 40,000 cookies.
The young bakers are donating their time and effort as part of the Boxes of Love initiative, which has been cooking and selling cookies for charity since 2006. This year's baking effort is organized by eighth-grader Damon Katz, who has been baking cookies for Boxes of Love since he was in first grade. He said he expects this year's bake sale will raise between $20,000 and $40,000 for Pathfinders in Milwaukee.
"It's pretty cool that 200 kids can raise so much money for charity," he said.
Boxes of Love was started by the Cochran family in 2006. When the Cochran family moved away in 2010, the Katz family took over Boxes of Love. The fundraiser has skyrocketed from $2,000 to $20,000 in profits, and more kids join the effort each year.
"It just kind of snowballed," said Damon's mom, Linda Katz. "We used to bake four flavors here, and then another family would bake a flavor or two. Now there are 15 families, and most families bake a half of a flavor or a third of a flavor."
The cookies come in 10 flavors, including sugar cookies, seven-layer bars, peanut butter cookies, pretzel and white chocolate reindeer eyes, gingerbread and white chocolate peppermint bark. The cookies are grouped into six, tied together in a bag and placed into cardboard boxes with colored tissue paper and personalized notes written by the kids.
Each bag of cookies costs $3 or $4. As many as six bags can be included in a cardboard box that can be hand-delivered by kids in Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. As many as 10 cookie bags can be placed in larger shipping boxes, which cost an additional $11 for shipping.
"For $40, you can send this to your college student and also be making a charitable donation to Pathfinders," Linda Katz said.
On distribution day, the Katz family clears the long living table, and places all of the bags of cookies into laundry baskets, separated by flavor. About 20 kids sort through the order forms, and much like an assembly line, they add tissue paper, cookies and a personalized note into each box before placing it into the living room for delivery. Moms and dads are allowed to drive to the delivery address, but only kids are allowed to deliver the package to the door. Deliveries are made in the first two weekends of December.
"It feels like we are running a small business," Damon said.
Boxes of Love will receive extra attention for its efforts this year, as the organization has been named the grand marshal of this year's Whitefish Bay Holiday Stroll parade. Their cookies will also be sold at Whitefish Bay Middle School's Holiday Boutique, which will run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17.
Last year, Boxes of Love raised $14,760 in profits, and with a $12,000 matching grant, was able to donate $30,352 to Stop SAM (Severe Acute Malnutrition). With help from matching grants, the kids donated $57,434 to Sree Giri Orphanage in India in 2014; $40,251 to Feeding America Southeastern Wisconsin in 2013; and $30,126 to Valley View Academy in Kenya in 2012.
This year's proceeds will support Pathfinders' Southeastern Education Center, which is a specialized behavioral reassignment school that provides up to 80 sixth- through eighth-grade students each semester with targeted interventions and focused learning opportunities. The funds will specifically be directed to the education center's Karen LeSage After School programming, which allows students with unmet basic needs to enter the drop-in center before or after school to access clothing, food and hygienic products, as well as access to computers, mentoring and tutoring services.
Orders for this year are due by Nov. 25. Order forms can be downloaded online at giveboxesoflove.com.