Whenever I enjoy the wafting aroma of Christmas Season baking, something comes over me. All year long, I relentlessly monitor my sugar intake, longing to maintain a semblance of a girlish figure. Then, like a ravenous bear awakening from hibernation, it emerges – that irresistible urge to scoff down a million sweet treats at Christmas. I think it’s the festive environment, the warmth of social time and the music all combined. For some reason this evening, I was craving Hershey’s Kisses with almonds! Had to be with almonds….But I didn’t regress. I drove right passed the store. You know why? Because I remembered Jake, a very young boy living in impoverished conditions in Miami, Florida.
Jake’s father immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria. A smart, fun-loving man of virtue, he happily drove a cab for 15 years. Jake’s mother was the favorite, nurturing babysitter of several local young women in a not-so-safe neighborhood. At the age of 3, Jake was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which was attributed to poor nutrition. His family lived in poverty already, but with the added stress of medical bills, his father was forced to work three jobs.
A local charity took compassion on the family and decided to launch a fundraising campaign called Cookie Monster. The idea was to encourage healthy eating while raising money for Jake’s treatment. The “cookie” represented junk food, including chips, pretzels, baked sweets, candy and fast food. “Monster” represented the cravings and desire to consume such foods, and it had to be annihilated. Hundreds of families in Florida participated in the campaign. Every time the “monster” reared its ugly head, a person must drop a quarter in the collection box. Since we are a sugar-craving nation, this happened frequently!
Two wonderful things happened. Firstly, more than $250,000 was raised for Jake, who received treatment and was able to lead a normal life until the age of 14. Secondly, many people lost excess weight, improved their overall health and began to lead much healthier lives. Jake eventually became ill again and passed on Christmas Day, just two weeks before his 15th birthday. Jake’s parents, though deeply grieved, were grateful for every moment they enjoyed with their son. Being so touched by the outpouring of compassion and sacrifices made for his treatment, they devoted themselves to educating others about how to eat nutritiously on a tight budget. Now back in Nigeria, they educate parents about infant nutrition.
The story makes me realize how fortunate I am to be healthy and well. It also reminds me to be grateful for every moment. My children and grandchildren are also healthy. I simply cannot imagine losing them. I decided to skip the Christmas Cookies in memory of Jake and to honor his family. I’m a celiac, so it’s not quite the same to bake with almond or coconut flour anyway, and it’s very easy to turn down other cookies since most people use white flour. We can all learn a lesson from the Cookie Monster Campaign. Who can we benefit with this idea? I’d love to read your thoughts.
Thanks for reading, and here’s to a healthy and Merry Christmas!