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Gretchen Holt-Witt on Curing Cancer, One Cookie at a Time (plus a Giveaway!)

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We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: Gretchen Holt-Witt of Cookies for Kids' Cancer speaks about her cause, and shares a recipe for Toffee Bars from her cookbook, All the Good Cookies. Want more where that came from? Be sure to read on -- we're giving away 5 copies!

Unlike most cookbook authors, Gretchen Holt-Witt didn't set out with the goal of sharing delicious recipes with the world. Instead, she was fighting to increase funding for pediatric cancer research. When her young son was diagnosed with cancer, Gretchen decided to raise funds the best way she knew how: through baking and selling cookies. 96,000 cookies and 400,000 dollars later, Cookies for Kids' Cancer was born, and has since helped gather funding for numerous research projects. 

Read on to learn more about Gretchen's vision for the organization, her thoughts on cookies, and how you can get involved.

Cookies for Kids' Cancer has had huge success. What have been some of the most surprising moments since launching? 
I would have to say the tremendous reach the organization has had since launching in 2008 -- we are now powered by supporters in all 50 states and over 15 countries. Another surprising thing are the letters we receive from people who have held an event on our behalf, thanking us for the opportunity to join the fight against pediatric cancer. I swell with pride when I read these letters, and I still open every single piece of mail that comes our way. 

Starting an organization is never as easy as it seems. What challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
The biggest challenge we had to overcome stemmed from my original idea to bake 96,000 cookies over the holidays in 2007. My son Liam was finally cancer-free, and I wanted to give back by helping to raise money for critically needed research. Pediatric cancer is not only the number one disease killer of children in the U.S., it’s also one of the most underfunded diseases. The task of baking and selling nearly 100,000 cookies was an incredibly complicated challenge, and yet there was no way I was going to give up. I found that if you take baby steps and ask a lot of questions of everyone and anyone who can offer insight, you can do anything. 

Between writing cookbooks, and running bake sales, we're sure you're in no shortage of cookies. What is your all-time favorite?
I can’t answer this question -- it would be like asking me to tell you who is my favorite friend! I can tell you that my son Liam’s favorite cookie was a citrus shortbread cookie. He used to carry a bag of them everywhere he went, taking bites and offering them to everyone he saw -- from a cab driver to a doctor or nurse at the hospital. It was his thing to give to others, and to be a Good Cookie.

More: A few of our favorite cookies.

What do you hope the organization will accomplish moving forward?
Fund every pediatric cancer research project that’s sitting on a shelf waiting for funding. Funding research is what leads to clinical trials, which give children options and ultimately provide hope. Seven of the research projects we have funded have already led to trials kids are receiving. It's amazing to me that all it takes to fund a project is $100,000. And the dozens of grants we have provided are moving science in real time.

What can the Food52 community do to get involved with this cause?
There are so many ways this community can help. People can hold a potluck and ask for donations, or organize a bake sale at whatever level suits them. There are no rules to being a Good Cookie

Want to try a recipe from All the Good Cookies? Gretchen has shared her recipe for Mary Hickey's Toffee Bars -- and we can't wait to try them.

Mary Hickey's Toffee Bars

Makes 64 bars

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photo of snickerdoodles by James Ransom. Photo of toffee bars by Cookies for Kids' Cancer: All the Good Cookies.

We're giving away five copies of All the Good Cookies to our readers! Tell us in the comments: what's your favorite bake sale treat? We'll choose three seriously lucky winners on Monday, June 10 at 3 PM EST.