Tell Us Your Story: Cookies for CaregiversMar 16, 2021 08:34PM ● By Jennifer Pencek
When Scott McKenzie and Jeremy Uhrich started competing against each other in a fun-filled cookie baking competition, little did they know they would soon be leading a national kindness movement.
Making Cookies and Spreading Kindness
longtime Huntingdon, Pa., friends are leading a national movement to spread
Cookies for Caregivers was born in the shadow of COVID-19, as many folks—especially front line workers—continued to go to work to serve their communities. Scott McKenzie and Jeremy Uhrich decided to show gratitude to those working to serve others by serving them. Their gift of choice? Freshly baked cookies.
What started out last March with baking and delivering cookies each week has turned into more than 100 Huntingdon-area bakers churning out more than 1,500 dozen delights that have been distributed to everyone from doctors and nurses to teachers and prison staff.
The two friends launched a Cookies for Caregivers Facebook page, which quicky gained traction and boasts more than 600 members from across the country, along with an Instagram page. Word spread of the acts of kindness, gaining the attention of People magazine and The Washington Post.
Vermont-based King Arthur Baking Company also took notice, donating 400 bags of flour to the cookie cause. Uhrich and McKenzie organized a drive-through event on a Saturday last December, distributing two 3-pound bags of flour to each car in line.
“Our goal was not to get to this level, but we wanted to have a bake-off and we wanted to deliver some cookies to caregivers and none of that was too difficult to do; seeing where it has gone, anything is possible,” said Uhrich, 42, a teacher at Huntingdon Area Middle School.
“It’s a good message for anybody—if you really want to do something, do it. Don’t say you can’t,” added Uhrich. “Don’t say it’s impossible. Scott and I, never in a million years—being involved in athletics and competition in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and Juniata College—thought we’d be known for cookies and baking.”
Making cookie history
The initiative is full of life lessons, including not giving into despair. McKenzie was furloughed from his job as associate athletic director for athletic operations at Juniata College from mid-April to mid-July 2020.
“I said I would either let this get to me or I would step up and do what I taught my athletes to do for 30 years—when you get knocked down you get back up,” McKenzie, 58, said. “I committed myself to learn something new every week; the first thing I did was make cookies from scratch. I grabbed a Betty Crocker cookbook and said, today is the day.”
After McKenzie posted pictures of his cookies on Facebook, Uhrich joined in, boasting he could bake a better product—and the rest is cookie history. Every week, Uhrich makes calls to find six dedicated volunteer-bakers who are willing to bake approximately six-dozen cookies. McKenzie calls five businesses or organizations, explaining the team would like to deliver cookies as a show of appreciation for their hard work and dedication. McKenzie coordinates delivery details following pandemic protocols.
Cookies are delivered to Uhrich’s house on the eve or morning of scheduled deliveries and Uhrich, and sometimes his sons—Finley, 9, and Maddix, 6—package the cookies in containers (using proper PPE). McKenzie and Uhrich make deliveries and post updated tallies and photos online.
“This is a message that resonates and needs to be delivered,” McKenzie said. “It’s OK to acknowledge the people in your community and to value the people in your community. The more you value them the more difficult it is to tear them down. We need that desperately right now.”
Cases in point
Laina Connor knows what it feels like to give and receive as part of Cookies for Caregivers. A volunteer baker from the beginning of the initiative, Connor, head coach of Juniata College’s softball team, has baked a handful of times for the initiative and has been a recipient of cookies as part of Juniata’s athletic department.
“It’s a simple thing but with such a difficult year it brings a lot of joy to people,” she said. “We had cookies delivered to the athletic department last fall and it just puts a smile on your face knowing people are thinking of you and the work you do.”
Stephanie Dye has also baked multiple times for Cookies for Caregivers and has twice been a recipient of the treats as part of the team at Crossroads Pregnancy Center, which provides free and confidential services to those facing pregnancy decisions.
“Not a lot of people know how much Crossroads provides for those who are pregnant in our community,” said Dye, who serves as director of reaching destinations at Crossroads. “By giving to us, [Cookies for Caregivers] has also brought light to an organization in our community that does a lot of good. On the receiving end it’s nice to be appreciated and recognized. We are still moving despite the pandemic—life doesn’t stop.”
Neither does Cookies for Caregivers. As Uhrich and McKenzie put it, “There is no expiration date on kindness.”
Uhrich said, “If this pandemic ends tomorrow, why do we have to stop? We’re in areas we never imagined being in. This cookie adventure, that’s going to continue whether it’s Scott and Jeremy making deliveries or whether it’s someone else.”
If you try it
Every day, people from across the country inquire about starting a Cookies for Caregivers chapter in their own area. Uhrich and McKenzie say that it’s far less complicated than people assume. There’s no formal process or plan to replicate Cookies for Caregivers. Instead, Uhrich and McKenzie stress that all people need is a desire to spread kindness and make memories.
“My dad told me when I was very young that one of the true marks of character was how you treat people who serve you,” McKenzie said. “Do you treat them like they are supposed to serve you or do you treat them like it’s an honor to have them serve you?”
Jennifer Pencek is a freelance writer based in State College and director of the Office for the Prevention of Interpersonal Violence at Juniata College.