by Laura Steiger, Outreach Team
You can “Help Feed 1 Million Kids!”
"No reason we can’t do it. As sales increase, the program increases,” said local business owner Erin Baker. “If people buy more, we give more.”
Photos courtesy Erin Baker's.
In 1994, Erin Baker purchased her first Kitchen Aid mixer and, inspired by her mother’s wholesome baking, set her sights on creating a healthy grab-n-go breakfast treat. Since then, her business has blossomed and it would be a challenge to find a local resident who hasn’t enjoyed an Erin Baker’s® cookie or bowl of granola.
With her business successfully growing, Erin set her sights on a new challenge. She began to consider how best she could have a positive impact on the health of children. After a visit to the Boys & Girls Club on Kentucky Street, she found the answer.
Thus, the “Help Feed 1 Million Kids Program” was conceived.
On that first visit, she observed kids drawn to a vending machine full of junk food and sugary drinks. Kids were bartering and pooling their money in order to buy something. Unsurprisingly, the items in high demand weren’t exactly health foods. Thus, the “Help Feed 1 Million Kids Program” was conceived.
Erin Baker’s® established the “Help Feed 1 Million Kids Program” that distributes healthy snacks to 18 Boys & Girls Clubs in the region. The program has already distributed more than 650,000 Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookies, and is well on the way to reaching its goal of feeding 1 million kids!
The first obstacle was eliminating the unhealthy vending machine options, replacing them with healthy foods, and getting kids’ taste buds accustomed to something other than salt, sugar, processed foods, and additives.
the vending machines are gone
It took time but the program has made tremendous strides since those early days, thanks to Erin’s tenacity and the dedicated support of Boys & Girls Club staff, administration, and volunteers. The vending machines are gone, and in their place are a variety of Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookies made with simple, whole food ingredients. They are 100 percent free of any so-called “natural flavors” or additives, a fact that Erin is very proud of. And kids love ’em!
Approximately 50 percent of the kids at the clubs meet the criteria for free and reduced meals, and Boys & Girls Clubs staff reports an increase in families experiencing food insecurity and homelessness.
For kids who may not know when they will have their next meal, the healthful cookies at the club are a welcome relief. Cookies go home in backpacks and provide filling nourishment that doesn’t require a stove, refrigerator, or even a can opener; the things most of us take for granted but may be unavailable to a family without a stable home.
We make cookies and granola and we feed kids. That’s what we do.
“The clubs are a home away from home for these kids. Learning, living, laughing, loving, crying,” said Erin. “And I have a machine to make healthy food! So, we make cookies and granola and we feed kids. That’s what we do. We don’t have glossy ads or fancy vehicles. We feed kids; that’s where our marketing dollars go.”
If people buy more, we give more.
The program started with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, but has since expanded to include 18 clubs located in five counties. “We aim to spread this program across the country. No reason we can’t do it. As sales increase, the program increases,” said Erin. “If people buy more, we give more.” Her business donates 3 percent, which is on par with the giant industrial food companies.
The Bellingham business employs 45 people. “What do I say about this family of mine? An amazing group of people dedicated to making food the old fashioned way. It’s a labor of love,” said Erin. “We are one of the few in the country that actually make our own product, and have everything under one roof.”
That old-fashioned way of doing things includes a fair amount of hand work, so food is minimally processed. And everything is baked-to-order to ensure freshness.
The past two hot summers have been tough with no air conditioning in the factory. “We have challenging days and we have great days. Everyone is passionate and dedicated to making it happen.
We’re like family. We’re doing something that makes a difference and that is what keeps us going,” said Erin.
Another ingenious way the staff keeps going is thanks to the Fun Committee. “They just do fun things for the whole staff a few times a week,” explained Erin. The fun can be providing fresh squeezed lemonade in the break room, providing origami kits for staff to unwind and get creative, or making tie-dye T-shirts.
“I have had, along the years, some amazing people with me on this journey. We are truly the epitome of a true team because all these people who’ve helped over the years, they were here because they believe in what we’re doing.”
Make more cookies, sell more cookies, give more cookies.
“Once we hit the 1 million cookie mark, that’ll be a huge milestone. It’s a goal for everyone here. Make more cookies, sell more cookies, give more cookies,” said Erin.
Erin Baker with her adorable dog, Cookie. If you dedicated your career to this amazing company, what else would you name your dog?
Erin mentioned that a lot of people don’t know they are located downtown next to Cash & Carry on Ohio Street. She invites everyone to “come in and sample every one of our products. Check out what’s new. Meet the team!”
see the progress toward the 1 million cookie mark
Can’t visit in person? Then visit the website. There you can see the progress toward the 1 million cookie mark, and you can also hover over a list of the whole food ingredients used in the company’s products and learn about each of them from A (almonds) to W (wheat).
Join in the effort to “Help Feed 1 Million Kids!” It’s easy, and delicious. Just buy more cookies and granola and Erin Baker will take it from there.