ABERDEEN – Wendy Levy of Aberdeen Township values the casual exchange of gossip between the young women who volunteer to bake sweet treats in her kitchen each year.
“I get to see what teenage girls are like,” Levy said in an interview on Dec. 14.
In 2003, Jamie Levy, the young daughter of Levy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fifteen months after she was diagnosed, Jamie passed away at the age of 6.
Drawing inspiration from the support the family had received, Levy’s family members and friends began hosting bake sales to raise money for children in medical need and for local children’s charities.
Students from Matawan Regional High School volunteer to bake and sell homemade cookies, cakes and sweets at a local venue.
This year, the event was held at AMF Strathmore Lanes, Route 34, Aberdeen.
Proceeds will benefit an 11-year-old child who has olfactory neuroblastoma, which is a rare cancer, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey and the Jamie Levy Memorial Scholarship for Volunteerism and Community Service.
This scholarship was created in Jamie’s name in the year she would have graduated from Matawan Regional High School.
“It’s awesome that the students are so involved,” Levy said during the event. “They get volunteer hours and (the students) build relationships … Sometimes kids come back (to volunteer) after they have graduated because they just want to help out.”
This year, Levy said, more than 20 volunteers helped bake and sell holiday treats.
In preparation for the fundraiser, which spans several days, Levy makes and freezes cookie dough in advance. She baked more than 1,000 cookies for the fundraiser – which feature her own recipe.
Levy experiments with tasty new recipes that make the bake sale one-of-a-kind. This year, she introduced edible cookie dough, cappuccino chip cookies and chewy toasted coconut cookies to her delicious line of treats.
“I’m paying it back and paying it forward … (The fundraiser) gives me a piece of something I missed in my life,” Levy said, noting that she values spending time with the young women who volunteer their time to help her in the kitchen.
“You ignore me at the house, right?” Levy then jokingly said to one of the young volunteers – as if ignoring adults is customary in adolescence. The teen said “yeah.”
“The girls talked about their prom dresses or their boyfriends or sometimes a song will come on and they will dance to it,” Levy said.
Alison Chen, 17, of Aberdeen, said, “there is always something fun to do (for the fundraiser) and it doesn’t feel like you are volunteering. I like the atmosphere and the generosity of people around the holidays.”
Alyssa Funt, 17, of Aberdeen, said, “There are such easy ways to help out. It doesn’t always have to be strenuous work. Something as simple as baking and getting together with people raises a lot of money to give to a good cause. It’s your time, but you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Each year, Levy said, her childhood friend Randy Ring, who now lives in Florida, travels to New Jersey to help facilitate the holiday bake sale. The duo has been best friends since seventh grade.
“Four years ago I moved to Florida and I have been coming to this (fundraiser) since it started 13 years ago. When I moved to Florida I told (Wendy) I would be back every year, don’t worry,” Ring said.
Ring said art students at Oratory Preparatory School, Summit, create pottery that is donated to the annual fundraiser and sold as gifts.
Levy said the community has been an incredible asset to her cause.