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Cupcakes for a Cause: Teens Who Bake for Charity

Longtime friends Leanne Youstra and Margaret Quinn have learned that a passion for baking combined with a dedication to others produces sweet success.
Leanne Youstra and Margaret Quinn with cupcakes
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Malek Naz Freidouni

Last summer, 17-year-old Leanne Youstra volunteered at City Camp, a weeklong community service mission connecting visiting youth groups with local children from low-income families in northern Philadelphia. As a devoted fan of food shows like Cake Boss and Cupcake Wars, she couldn't help noticing the unappetizing boxed meals that were being handed out to the children. "It was uncomfortable to watch kids only a few years younger than me not wanting to eat, even though they were obviously hungry," Leanne says. "I was determined to spend the rest of my summer finding a way to benefit them."

Leanne recalled reading Food Network celebrity Sandra Lee's memoir, Made from Scratch, which mentioned her partnership with the Share Our Strength (SOS) Great American Bake Sale (GABS), a national effort to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. After returning home, Leanne asked her best friend since sixth grade, Margaret Quinn, if she'd be interested in combining their shared love of baking cupcakes with reaching out to disadvantaged children and their families. "The idea of doing something we enjoy while raising money for a cause that's so important seemed like the perfect match," says Margaret.

The girls devoted one day a week over the next month to planning and researching how and where they could make their bake sales successful. They created a Facebook page and their own webpage within the GABS site, along with labels touting their organization, Baking for Change. At a June graduation ceremony, Leanne reconnected with her former elementary school principal, and in late August they met with her to discuss hosting a bake sale at a school event. The principal suggested back-to-school night, which was only a week away and four days before their first bake sale at their church.

Over the next few nights, Leanne's kitchen quickly turned into a makeshift command center. They made GABS flyers, posters and display boards, and churned out 400 homemade cupcakes, enough for both events—or so they thought. On back-to-school night, they sold 130 cupcakes. They'd planned on having the church bake sale open for three consecutive Sunday masses, but were out of stock after the second. Cupcakes were $2 each at the school, and customers set their own price at the church, which ended up being more successful. "We really didn't know what to expect," says Leanne. "But after the two sales, we had raised around $1,000."

In the following weeks the girls received calls and e-mails complimenting their professionalism, requesting more cupcakes and asking when their next sale would be. They scheduled it for December—they had to focus on school first—and raised another $800, which was matched by sponsors of SOS. GABS included them on the 2011 Bake Sale Rock Stars list, the organization's roster of top fundraising teams nationwide. Every few months they've held a bake sale at their church, and they hosted one at their high school during a track meet.

Margaret is constantly struck by the generosity of the donations, which have reached as much as $20 for a single cupcake, enough to help feed two children lunch for an entire summer. "It's rewarding to know that we're providing aid to these kids," says Margaret.