Squeo is the founder of Baking Memories 4 Kids, a nonprofit that sells chocolate chip cookies that are, according to its website, “undeniably, mouth-wateringly delicious.” Proceeds send children with life-threatening illnesses on a trip of a lifetime.
The organization’s “cookie kids” and their families are given an all-expenses-paid weeklong vacation in the theme park capital of the world, Orlando, Fla., where they’ll stay at the whimsically luxurious Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre storybook-themed resort designed for children with special needs. Trips include free admission to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando Resort with front-of-the-line passes.
“All the families we’ve sent so far don’t have the resources to even go to an amusement park for a day, never mind a trip like this,” said Squeo, owner of Personalized Pool Care in Valley Village, NY.
Squeo’s own battle with a life-threatening illness inspired him to make memories for children facing uncertain futures. In 2007, he was diagnosed with advanced stage-three testicular cancer. While in treatment, the heartbreaking sight of kids going through the same sort of grueling therapies struck him profoundly.
“When you’re 46 and you get cancer – not that 46 is a time when you feel you’ve lived your life –but it’s certainly different from being 10, 7 or 3 years old,” Squeo recalled.
In 2012, Baking Memories 4 Kids was born. The 501(c)(3) organization depends less on simple generosity and more on people’s holiday-fueled appetites for baked goods. Containers of cookies cost $24.99. In addition to funding family trips, a portion of each order goes toward St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
“I didn’t want it to be a situation where we were asking for donations,” Squeo said. “I really wanted it to be something fun where people would enjoy being able to help.”
No one associated with BM4K gets a paycheck, that includes Squeo and his cousin, Christina Metz, who work fulltime this time of year baking and surprising families with the good news. (Squeo makes a production out of it, arriving at their doorsteps via fire truck with the mayor in tow.)
This season, BM4K’s army of volunteers, called “Memory Makers,” will produce about 10,000 cookies an hour at BOCES of Rockland County, an educational center equipped with an industrial-size kitchen. Last year, they churned out 220,000 cookies. Squeo said they’re on pace to exceed that and have already identified five families this season that they’ll award vacations to.
“This is our big push, from now to Dec. 22,” he said “Bottomline: If we do not raise the money, we have to put kids on a waiting list, or say no.”
Families are nominated. So far, they haven’t turned anyone down.
Eva Grace Kelly was the first to be given a trip to Walt Disney World last year. She was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a muscle-deteriorating disease. Given her condition, the she wasn’t allowed to travel during flu season. Plus, doctors didn’t think she’d live much beyond two years. With a limited window of opportunity, Squeo rushed the travel arrangements.
Little Eva Grace was given a VIP tour of the Most Magical Place on Earth complete with a personal visit from Mickey and the gang.
“She loved every single thing about it,” said Eva Grace’s mother, Melissa Kelly, of West Haven, Conn. “It was a wonderful, wonderful trip.”
Kelly estimates the trip for the family of four, plus a nurse, would’ve cost about $20,000 out of pocket.
“It’s really to create memories where, in some cases, this is the last time they’ll be able to do something like that,” Squeo said. “Thank God all the families we’ve sent so far, the children are still here.”
That includes Eva Grace, who turns 4 in January.
For more information, visit www.bakingmemories4kids.com.
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