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This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Giving (and Sweets)

More than 100 Whitefish Bay students are baking treats to raise money for an African schoolhouse through the Boxes of Love organization.

A growing number of Whitefish Bay kids are giving new meaning to the phrase 'made with love'.

This holiday season, more than 100 Whitefish Bay students are expected to participate in the Boxes of Love project, which bakes holiday treats to raise money for a charitable cause.

Last year, 120 kids baked 17,000 treats for a fundraiser that donated $20,560 to expand the HIP and HIPPY parent involvement programs at COA Youth and Family Centers.

This year, the kids will be baking treats to purchase desks for Valley View Academy near Nairobi, Kenya.

The effort to rebuild the schoolhouse has been led by Shorewood native Stephanie Koczela, who studied abroad in Nairobi in her junior year of college. After finishing her study abroad program, she committed herself to raising $400,000 to tear down the cramped, dilapidated schoolhouse with a leaky roof and replace it with a four-story building with 24 classrooms, a computer room, a library, a play area, and an extra large kitchen. 

Koczela has raised enough money to construct the school, but the children still need 600 desks. That's where Boxes of Love comes in.

This year's fundraising effort calls on 11 different families to bake treats. The epicenter of baking activity is at the Katz family's Berkeley Boulevard home, where a quarter of the treats are produced. All three of the Katz children participate, including sophomore Noah, 7th grader Trevor and 4th grader Damon.

“Sometimes its hard to get kids just to empty the dishwasher,” their mother Linda Katz said with a laugh. “Noah will have 20 sophomores come over here, and in the blink of an eye, they’ll have made hundreds of cookies. I’m amazed at their motivation to make this happen.”

Boxes of Love started seven years ago by a service-oriented student group called Bay Attitude. After four years of baking at the Cochran family household, the Katz family took on the project three years ago and spread out the baking responsibility across 11 different families.

Noah, who has done a lot of the baking and organizing in the past three years, said he has watched the efforts grow exponentially every year. 

In 2010, Boxes of Love raised $7,375 with a $5,000 matching grant from Disney's Club Penguin. That money went to benefit for a water project and a one-room schoolhouse in Kenya.

In 2011, the organization raised a total of $20,000 for COA, which includes $10,280 in bake sales and an equal matching grant from the Herzfeld Foundation.

This year, Noah has solicited matching donations from nine different donors, most of whom have supported Koczela's efforts at Valley View in the past.

“I’m really excited to see what we can pull off this year,” Noah said. “They need $31,000 for 600 desks. We might not raise the full amount, but we can at least raise money for a couple hundred desks.”

Boxes of Love is collecting orders through Nov. 26, and then the kids will bake the orders the first three weekends of December. Deliveries to Shorewood and Whitefish Bay are free, but they will ship them anywhere in the country for $11. Katz said the treats are a great holiday gift idea for teachers, coaches, hairdressers and college students that may be looking for a gift from home.

While Noah does not pride himself as a baker, he said he is happy to put in long hours for a good cause.

"It's inspiring to know that you are working toward something that is bigger than yourself," he said. "We’re so small in the world, but there’s over 120 of us here in Whitefish Bay that are able to make a difference for kids in Africa."

Learn more about Valley View Academy by visiting Valley View's website, and send your baked goods order form to Boxes of Love, 6111 N. Berkeley Blvd., Whitefish Bay, WI by Nov. 26.

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