She may be little, but this 9-year-old thinks big

Ashley Popp’s cookies will raise $1,000 for cancer research

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
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It was Tuesday, April 24, when Ashley Popp, a petite fourth-grader from Buckman, saw a commercial that prompted her to ask her mother a question: “How do people raise money for cancer?”

“It was probably a Susan G. Komen commercial,” said her mother, Lisa. “It came out of the blue.”

Lisa, who had lost her 58-year-old mother, Diana Skaja to colon cancer just 2 1/2 years ago, explained  that some people take part in walks or make pledges and in Lisa and her husband Kevin’s case, put money in an envelope and donate to the American Cancer Society.

“I’m too little for all of that,” Ashley told her mother.

Not knowing where the conversation was going, Lisa told Ashley she could put $5 in with her parents’ donation if she liked.

Ashley Popp wanted to raise money for cancer research. Instead of asking “if” a 9-year-old could raise money, she asked her mother “how.” She came up with the idea of baking and selling cookies and with lots of help from her family and lots of generous cookie lovers, she will soon reach her $1,000 goal.

Ashley went into the kitchen and came back with an idea and asked for her mom’s help — she wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies to sell to raise money. Her parents agreed to help and the price was set at $5 for a dozen chocolate chip cookies.

There was no goal in mind at first, just a desire to raise money to help in the fight against cancer.

As they began to brainstorm about who to sell the cookies to — friends, family, neighbors — Ashley asked her mother to send an e-mail to her co-workers. Lisa works for Stearns County in the Human Services Department.

The response was “crazy,” and “overwhelming,” said Lisa. After the first day they had orders for 40 dozen cookies. The orders came for not just one dozen, but four dozen, or six dozen.

The Popps began baking the Thursday after the idea was born; that Saturday, they baked 30 dozen cookies to be ready for delivery Monday. Luckily, Ashley had learned at her mother’s knee to enjoy baking.

At first, Lisa had no idea how many ingredients she should buy. The Popps decided early on that all of the proceeds from the cookie sales would be donated and they purchased the ingredients.

The first supplies Lisa bought didn’t last long and more were needed. In addition to the Popps purchasing the ingredients, family and friends began to donate sugar, chocolate chips and more to keep the project going — some donating a 25-pound bag of sugar or flour.

For a while, the Popp household was a baking factory evenings and weekends. Lisa’s sister-in-law, Jackie Popp who lives in Rice, made 10 dozen cookies at her home to help out and Lisa’s aunts Darlene Kieffer of Foley and Marie Moulzolf from Gilman, both came one weekend to help bake. Kevin’s mother, Janet Popp, who lives in Rice, was another huge source of help.

Kevin and Ashley’s  brothers Tyler, 13, and Austin, 15, even had to buy the cookies if they wanted to eat them. That is, of course, unless one of the cookies was less than perfect for some reason and couldn’t be packaged.

Lisa Popp, left, with her daughter, Ashley, baked hundreds of cookies to raise money for cancer research.

Ashley said a few ended up with her thumbprint, but not on purpose. She does however, personalize each bag with a “Thank you!”

Funds continued to grow as some people donated more money than the cookies they purchased, some donated money and didn’t take any cookies; some donated money just for a copy of the recipe.

Kevin asked his daughter if she had a goal in mind. After thinking about it a bit, $1,000 was set as the goal.

As of Tuesday, less than one month after she came up with the idea, Ashley had raised about $840. Ashley’s grandfather, Dave Skaja of Rice, volunteered to help raise the rest of the money at a moving sale/garage sale to be held at his home, May 23 – 25.

The Popps contacted the American Cancer Society in St. Cloud to ask for help in deciding how or where the money should be donated.

They have decided to donate it to the Morrison County Relay for Life, which will be held Friday, July 13. It will be the first Relay event the family has attended and they are looking forward to it.

The $1,000 Ashley is raising is the amount required to be raised by an entire Relay for Life team.

“Ashley is a very caring girl. She just asked me if I would want to buy some cookies,” said Monica Makela, a teacher at Royalton Elementary, where Ashley attends school. “When I asked what she was selling them for, she said, ‘To get money for cancer.’”

Makela said her own mother passed away less than two years ago from cancer and ordered two dozen. Other teachers bought cookies as well.

“She didn’t make it a big deal,” said Makela. “I know that she lost her grandmother to cancer and that they were very close. I don’t know if any of her fellow classmates know about her project. I think this shows how much our children care about others and that everything isn’t about them.”

After the cookie baking is done, Ashley can go back to playing basketball and softball, two sports she enjoys.

At least until the next idea strikes.

“Ashley does not comprehend what she has done,” said Lisa.

“We couldn’t be more proud of her,” said Kevin.