As you may know, I recently completed my first book of recipes, A Gift of Cookies. This cookbook project was near and dear to me for many reasons: it allowed me to reminisce about my favorite baking memories; I finally answered my daughters’ longstanding plea to gather all of my favorite recipes in one place; and I got to tell stories about family and travel that have shaped me. But one additional reason that I’m passionate about this project is that all proceeds from sales of the book will go to fund two wonderful charities that are very important to me: Hephzibah Home and the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society. Both are dedicated to providing critical housing, health, and welfare services for children and families in need. I feel very strongly that children in difficult situations can be given the opportunity to thrive, as long as there’s at least one major force pulling for them. 


Privileged to Serve: Hephzibah’s Home’s Commitment to Children and Families

I’ve always had a strong connection with children, and in particular, with children who are facing severe difficulties with their health, environment, or family situation. Through my own personal experiences and those of people close to me I’ve come to understand how important it is for there to be a safety net for children who are in such challenging circumstances. Because of this, I became interested in the essential work that was being done by Hephzibah Home. The more I learned about their fervent commitment to creating a safe living environment for kids, the more I knew I wanted to get involved and give them my support. It also blew my mind that such a groundbreaking institution had its beginnings in my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois: In the late nineteenth century, Oak Park resident Mary Wessels opened her own home to displaced children after a local orphanage burned down. Beginning with two boys aged six and seven, she was soon accommodating a dozen more children, eventually naming her new mission the “Hephzibah Home,” after her mother (“Hephzibah” also being a Hebrew name meaning “comforting mother”). More than 100 years later the Hephzibah Home organization has expanded and diversified, and now offers a remarkable range of services to the most needy and vulnerable children in our society: their operations include group homes, foster care, and child welfare programs, and they have even opened Illinois’ only diagnostic treatment center to assess the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of neglected and abused children.

Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society: Advancing the Health and Wellbeing of Children in Need

I first became aware of the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society about two years ago, during their annual “holiday house walk”—a fundraiser where people buy tickets to tour festively decorated houses in the neighborhood—and they asked me to volunteer my house, which I did gladly. It was through this event that I met IWS Executive Director Peggy LaFleur and members of her wonderful team. I also learned of the astonishing breadth of healthcare services they offer to needy children, which encompasses not only medical care but also dental and mental health services. On top of which I realized that the concerns and services of the IWS and Hephzibah House combined to form a strong bond, a symbiotic partnership that seeks to create a comprehensive network for the support and care of the young and vulnerable. The IWS has also been active in our community for over 100 years, and I’m hoping that with contributions from the sale of the book we can help them carry out this critical work for another century.

Infant welfare society
3 kids

Cookies and Caring: Ways to Donate to These Important Children's Charities

It occurs to me that something as simple as a home-baked cookie can mean a lot to a child; a cookie is a symbol of warmth, of familial ties, of sustenance, caring, and comfort. It’s something so many of us take for granted, either as adults or if we were lucky to have it be a staple in our formative years. But it’s not so for all children, which is why it’s so important to have organizations like the ones I’m partnering with to ensure that these kids feel safe and loved. You just need the right infrastructure; the serious obstacles these children face are not insurmountable as long as there are people who really care and really want to make a difference. 

You can donate to these marvelous organizations directly by clicking the links here (IWS) or here (Hephzibah). Or you can buy my cookbook, A Gift of Cookies: Recipes to Share with Family & Friends. Not only will you receive a beautifully designed and bound book with 130 of my favorite recipes—as well as a wealth of tips and techniques for better baking—but you’ll also get the gift of knowing that all proceeds will go to fund these two amazing institutions and help the many children in their care.

Learn a bit more…

Hephzibah Children’s Associations

Hephzibah is Oak Park’s oldest social service agency, offering group homes for abused and neglected children, child welfare and family services, foster care and adoption programs, and award-winning daycare on a sliding scale.

August 31, 2022 — Mary DiSomma