Nonprofit aims to send sick kids to Disney

Organization works to give ailing children, families a memorable experience

There’s a whole new meaning to Disney World’s claim to being the happiest place on earth.

Since 2012, the nonprofit “Baking Memories 4 Kids” has been working to send sick children and their families to Walt Disney World free of charge. Washington Township resident Christina Metz is the senior vice president of the organization. Her cousin, Frank Squeo, a resident of Rockland County N.Y., is the founder.

It all started in 2007 when Squeo was diagnosed with an advanced form of testicular cancer. While he was undergoing treatment, he made a vow that if he survived he would give back.

After five years of treatment, he made good on his vow, it was only a matter of deciding how to pay it forward. Squeo ultimately decided to personally pay for a sick child and her family to go to Disney World.

This wasn’t a sustainable action. To keep sending sick children and their families on trips to Disney World, he started “Baking Memories 4 Kids,” which combines his love of Disney and his passion of baking cookies. Metz said Squeo would bake cookies and send them to his clients around the holidays. Now, the nonprofit is partnered with a vocational school in Rockland County to help mass produce cookies that are sold from Nov. 1 through the holiday season. Metz said they sold 12,000 containers of cookies over a six-week span last year.

Since the foundation’s inception in 2012, “Baking Memories 4 Kids” has sent 177 families nationwide on an all-expenses-paid Disney vacation. It did 66 in 2018 alone. Part of what makes the organization successful is minimal overhead. There are no direct employees of “Baking Memories 4 Kids.” However, Squeo, Metz and her assistant Stephanie Smith are independent contractors, so while they are paid, they are vendors, not employees of the foundation. There is no office space either. Metz does all of her work from her home in Washington Township.

“It’s important we do it this way,” Metz said. “If we hired people, we wouldn’t be at 177. Hopefully we’ll need a full-time staff one day. For now, we keep it at a minimum.”

Up until this year, the only way the foundation funded trips was through the six-week holiday sale. With stagnant sales this year, Metz said they are looking for other avenues to fundraise. One of the concepts they are trying are bake sales.

Metz hosted her own bake sale at Washington Lake Park on May 4 for “Super Saturday” where she raised $360, which was small considering a bake sale in Colorado recently raised over $700. While these figures don’t seem overwhelming, every little bit helps, according to Metz.

“With 10 bake sales at $700 we can send one family,” she said.

Metz estimates the average cost of the trip to be $7,000 considering transportation, accommodations and park tickets. She said “Baking Memories 4 Kids” works with “Give Kids the World,” a nonprofit resort dedicated to servicing kids with mobility issues, special needs and sickness along with their families.

Metz said the resort has lifts for pools, oversized doorways and lower countertops, to name a few of the amenities.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “A lot of families say they would rather stay in the resort. It gives kids the empowerment they don’t normally get in the real world.”

In addition to the resort, the vacationers have access to all the major theme parks in Orlando: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Sea World. They have cut-the-line passes for rides and meet-and-greets, as well as reserved spots for parades and fireworks.

“We provide them with an all-expense-paid vacation that you can’t get as a regular person because they deserve it,” she said. “They deserve this one opportunity to get the leg up because they don’t normally get the leg up.”

One of the benefits of being a smaller foundation is the flexibility. “Baking Memories 4 Kids” has assisted children with cancer, type 1 diabetes and immune system disorders, to name a few.

“I think every child and every family who are dealing with a child who’s sick goes through enormous pain – emotionally, physically, financially,” Metz said. “I think if we can provide a little relief for that to anybody, I think it’s important.”

The desire to provide that relief is why Metz is leaving no rock unturned when looking for new fundraising opportunities. The bake sales are done independently. Anyone who wants to host one can contact Metz at bakingmemories4kids@gmail.com or by phone at (856) 516-4694. She said the foundation will provide a marketing kit including brochures, a poster, buttons and other informational giveaways. A bake sale can be anything from cookies, doughnuts and brownies to slime and candles.

“It’s empowering knowing you changed someone’s life, even for a week,” Metz said.

She’s ready to put her money where her mouth is, too.

“Bottom line is we’re about the kids. When Frank approached me about taking a salary, I first told him ‘no.’ I told him if I take a salary, if we turn down a kid you need to take my salary,” she said.

At the time of publication, “Baking Memories 4 Kids” has not turned down a family.

For more information, visit bakingmemories4kids.com or its Facebook page, “Baking Memories 4 Kids.”