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.
Best-Selling Cupcake Recipe
Leanne and Margaret offer seven varieties at their sales, but this recipe is always the best seller.
Snickerdoodle Cupcakes and Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting
Makes 22 to 24 cupcakes and 3 1/2 cups of frosting
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 12-capacity cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Combine 1 box (18.25 ounces) white cake mix, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted unsalted butter, 3 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down side of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping side again if needed. Using a standard ice cream scoop, fill each liner two-thirds full.
3. Bake cupcakes at 350 degrees F until they are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool cupcakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.
4. Remove cupcakes directly to the wire racks and cool completely, 30 minutes more. Meanwhile, place 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, or until fluffy. Stop the mixer and add 3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, 3 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Blend with mixer on low until sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Blend in up to 1 additional tablespoon milk if frosting seems too stiff. Spread onto cooled cupcakes.
Bake Sale Tips
Bring in the dough with these smart start-up tips.
- Ask for input. "Know what you like to make, and what your family and friends enjoy. It's almost guaranteed to be the top seller," Leanne suggests.
- The more the merrier. Encourage classmates and friends to pitch in and be there for moral support.
- Publicize your event. Use social media and GABS's online Bake Sale Resource Center to get the word out.
- Host your sale in a familiar place. "People were more receptive at the church, where they knew us and our families, than at an elementary school where we had no personal connection," Leanne says.