Two 5-year-olds take on hunger

Their bake sale raises almost $600 yesterday

July 14, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

MONROVIA - Five-year-old Garrett Wiehler was watching Lilo & Stitch a few weeks ago when he saw an advertisement that made him think.

He thought for a while, until he was on a long car ride with his mother. "Mom," he said, "did you know that 13 children don't have enough food?"

"Don't you mean 13 million?" Marie Wiehler asked.

No, said Garrett. Just 13.

Garrett had seen a promotion for the Great American Bake Sale, a fund-raising effort by Parade magazine and Share Our Strength, an organization that fights hunger. The idea was for ordinary people around the country to hold bake sales and donate the money to the group.

Garrett lives with his family on Tranquility Court in this quiet suburb of Frederick, near its intersection with Serene Court. It's an enclave of comfortable homes made of brick and siding. To Garrett's knowledge, he has never met a needy child. The closest he has come to understanding hunger, his mother points out, was the time they were running late and didn't eat dinner until 8:30 p.m.

But the notion of hungry kids bothered him. So a marketing operation was born.

The first thing for Garrett to do was call his friend Damon Halvis, whom he'd met after they accidentally butted heads at preschool. They had been best friends ever since, and though they live near each other, they will attend different kindergartens this fall. They needed a joint project while it was still summer.

Then they needed a name: "The Garrett & Damon Stop Hunger Now Bake Sale." It went on signs, and on a press release that Marie and Garrett's father, Ronn, one-time corporate communications consultants, sent to the media.

They needed help. The boys dictated a letter to their preschool classmates, asking for donations and baked goods. Lisa Halvis, Damon's mother, printed and sent it.

They met Dori Fahlfeder, owner of the Slender Lady fitness club at Green Valley Center on Route 80. It turned out that Dori held her own version of the Great American Bake Sale last year (when the effort raised $1 million nationwide). Not only was she supportive enough to let the boys use the parking lot in front of her club, she advised all of her members to go off their diets for the day for the cause.

The boys helped stir and pour batter during some of the three days their mothers spent baking. They went around the shopping center, asking merchants to advertise their sale. They even practiced being interviewed. Even so, the mothers did the heavy lifting. It was Marie who stayed up until 1 a.m. the night before the sale, trying to iron promotional decals on the team's matching T-shirts.

Yesterday, on sale day, she was up at 5.

The media blitz had worked. There were Garrett and Damon with their arms around each other in the Frederick News-Post.

The sale, started at 7 a.m. to catch the morning rush, kicked off with a dizzying array of baked goods. There were sugar cookies with stripes, plain sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies with peanut butter chips and without. Rice Krispies treats, brownies with powdered sugar, brownies made in the shape of little muffins, cinnamon buns, apricot scones. Trail mix, vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, lemon-oat lacies and cake-mix cookies bound with frosting called "Gobs." Fortunately for the volunteer from the thrift shop in Damascus, an entire cherry pie was waiting to be purchased for her daughter's 50th birthday celebration.

Then there were the customers. The ex-babysitters came, and the preschool teachers and the locksmith, the registrar from church and the lady sweaty from Jazzercise. The Department of Energy contractor filled a bag with goodies, and a well-dressed man left his SUV with the Colorado license plate running while he picked up some brownies. Damon's Aunt Jennifer loaded up a basket. One couple asked Garrett to autograph his picture from the newspaper. The boy carefully complied, writing his first name only.

There was a girl whose blond hair was pink because it was "Wacky Hair Day" at her brother's camp, so she had to have wacky hair, too. Another brought a Barbie purse filled with quarters, in a shade to match her sandals.

The boys' friends got into the act, making signs to hold out to passing cars. The message and the cause got just a bit garbled - "Have a Heat Help the Homless," said one sign - but the customers kept coming.

By 11:15 a.m., nearly two hours before the sale was supposed to end, Garrett and Damon had sold out of everything but a few sorry cupcakes whose frosting had melted and slid to the side.

Joyce Seng, 67, was the last customer. She pronounced the 75-cent melted cupcakes "excellent," and paid $10 for two.

The boys and their mothers sat on a rug from home and counted the money they had brought in. First the dollar bills, then the 10s, then the 5s, then the 20s. The boys stacked the quarters in fours and recited the number of dollars those made, while their moms totaled the dimes and nickels.

In one morning, they'd raised $592.63.

But Garrett seemed more concerned with another number. A reporter from a local cable television station, who had arrived at sale's end, asked him how many kids in the United States were hungry.

"Over 13," Garrett replied.

"Thirteen million?" the reporter asked.

Garrett looked at her gravely, as if she hadn't understood the scope of the problem.

"Just 13."

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