The Fact That Changed Everything: Gretchen Witt and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer

This content is brought to you by GOOD, with support from IBM. Click here to read more stories from The Fact That Changed Everything series and...

This content is brought to you by GOOD, with support from IBM. Click here to read more stories from The Fact That Changed Everything series and here to read about other Figures of Progress.

When Gretchen Witt’s two-and-a-half-year-old son Liam was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2007, she was startled to find out that pediatric cancer is the number one cause of death in children—more than asthma, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS combined—and that the fact simply never received any attention. For Witt, a public relations manager at housewares company OXO, this fact was simply unacceptable. “Liam’s oncologist said this was because kids who get cancer are not the ones who make the headlines,” recalls Witt.

The same day, she saw a headline about a White House official who was diagnosed with cancer. “It didn’t make sense to me that my son, who is priceless to me, wasn’t making headlines—and no other children with cancer were, either,” she recalls. “I said to Liam’s doctor, ‘We’ll see what we can do about this.’”
By the end of summer in 2007, Liam had fought hard and the cancer was in remission, but Witt still felt haunted by the doctor’s words. In the course of Liam’s battle, she had also found out that while treatments may be available for children with cancer, the lack of funding got in the way and prevented them from receiving treatment. “That’s a really difficult thing to hear as a parent, because essentially what that means is that there’s a price tag on my child’s life, and all other children’s lives,” she says.
Determined to help other children with pediatric cancer, Witt reached out to her extensive network of friends and colleagues in the food industry and media, enlisted 250 volunteers, and hosted an online bake sale around the holidays with the goal of reaching $96,000—the equivalent of selling 8,000 dozen cookies. In the end, they raised $400,000 for pediatric cancer research, and more importantly, helped others realize that they can help in myriad ways. “What had happened as a result of the amazing event was that we hit a nerve, because it was an easy, tangible way for people to get involved and make a difference,” Witt says.


In September 2008, Witt and her husband officially launched Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit foundation, so that anyone can host an event and donate money to pediatric cancer research. To date, the organization has had 4,000 events registered in 13 different countries, and has donated more than $4 million towards pediatric cancer research. The events range from bake sales to bowl-a-thons, fishing tournaments, and mom proms—in any way people have been inspired to help.
For the holidays, supporters can help Cookies for Kids’ Cancer by hosting a bake sale, having a cookie exchange or sending virtual cookies. In a joint effort to raise $100,000 this holiday season, Glad will give up to $1 per cookie to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer from now through December 31st. Or you can buy cookies and baking supplies online with 100% of the net proceeds from your purchase directly funding pediatric cancer research.
Sadly, Liam eventually passed away after his fourth recurrence of cancer in January 2011, but his inspiration continues to mobilize volunteers everywhere, and in his memory the foundation continues his fight against cancer.
“I think the people usually think that it takes tens of millions of dollars to make something happen, but that’s not true,” she explains. “In our case, we fund in $100,000 increments. That’s a doable number—that’s all that it takes to get a treatment tested and get research going. The alternative is that a child doesn’t receive any treatment.” The takeaway is simply that “each and every one of us can make a difference. If we all do a little it adds up to a lot, and it’s easy to make an impact.”