Project Cupcake raises funds for Operation Liberty Hill


Sixth graders Carly Ondrasek and Elise Eckford bake cupcakes together as part of a project for their sixth grade Leadership class. The 12-year olds baked and sold more than 500 cupcakes throughout the project and earned more than $1,000, which they donated to Operation Liberty Hill on Feb. 14. (Courtesy Photo)

By Rachel Madison

When sixth graders Elise Eckford and Carly Ondrasek were assigned a community service project in their leadership class at Liberty Hill Intermediate School, they had no idea their love of baking would lead to an $1,155 donation to Operation Liberty Hill less than a month later.

Together, the 12-year-old classmates baked, frosted, packaged and delivered more than 500 cupcakes as part of their school project, which they dubbed “Project Cupcake.”

Jerry Foster, the girls’ leadership teacher at LHIS, said the project was basically a “get out and do something nice for someone” project.

“We spend a lot of time in class talking about how to treat people and how they want to be treated, but when it came to putting that into action we hadn’t done a lot of that,” he said. “I kind of set it up for them and they took it into their own hands and ran with it. We have 145 kids in the class. Some worked in groups, others worked solo, but they all made their own plans and went with it.”

Eckford and Ondrasek decided to bake and sell cupcakes together because they both knew the other liked to bake, and they thought they’d be successful. They just didn’t realize how successful they would be.

“Elise came over and we made a practice batch and my mom said it tasted really good,” Ondrasek said. “We had to figure out an icing, too, and that took us like three tries. At the beginning we didn’t expect our [sales] to go so fast and to earn so much, but everything happened so fast.”

Eckford said their initial goal for the project was to reach $200, but when the duo reached that amount in their first weekend of baking, they decided to aim higher.

“I was like, ‘Do you think we can get $500?’” Eckford said. “Then we got that within the next two weeks and we were freaking out. Then we were like, ‘Do you think we can get $1,000?’ And then we did. We were so excited.”

The students sold cupcakes at $20 a dozen to everyone from family and friends to bible study groups and their parents’ co-workers. They even baked several dozen cupcakes for a wedding rehearsal dinner. Their cake flavors included red velvet, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and carrot, and their frosting flavors included vanilla, chocolate and cream cheese.

“One Wednesday I went over to Elise’s house and we baked for about four hours straight,” Ondrasek said. “We spent a lot of time baking—probably over 20 hours total.”

Foster said he’s not surprised by the size of his students’ hearts or the effort they put into the project, but he is surprised by the amount of money they were able to raise and the impact they were able to make.

“There’s so many limitations on these students,” he said. “They can’t drive, they can’t buy groceries. A lot of people don’t expect this kind of an impact from sixth graders, but they’ve inspired action by other people. Carly and Elise are the prime example, and they’ve given a little spark to others to jump on board and do something similar.”

During the project, Eckford’s mom, Melena, volunteered to wash all of the dirty dishes, while Ondrasek’s mom, Mindy, made multiple trips to the grocery store for more supplies. Both moms agree that the leadership class—a new course this school year—has been a great opportunity for their daughters.

“Mr. Foster has inspired these kids in so many ways,” said Mindy Ondrasek. “They have to think outside their box and get out of their comfort zone. It’s an elective, but I wish it was a required class. I’m so glad my daughter is in the class.”

At the end of the project, the girls presented their results—and cupcakes—to their class.

“It’s been really fun baking and knowing it’s going to go to a good cause,” Eckford said. “We want to encourage other kids to reach out and do something for somebody else.”

Karen Crockett, donations manager at Operation Liberty Hill, said the $1,155 donation will go into the organization’s general fund, which is used primarily to buy food for the pantry.

“It will also help us continue to provide financial assistance for our clients,” she said. “We love seeing the next generation of people coming up with a heart to serve others. We love seeing that they’re not thinking just about themselves, but they’re thinking about those around them and how they can help and give back.”

Other students in Foster’s class raised money to donate to fellow classmate Cash Samarron, who was recently diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma; walked dogs at local animal shelters; held a car wash for grandparents; raised and donated money toward the study of Chron’s Disease; and donated care packages and blankets to the homeless in downtown Austin.

“There was such a broad spectrum of projects,” Foster said. “Every single one was thought out so well. And the parents were all so eager to jump in and help, and that’s what I loved about it. Not every student raised money for their project, but out of those who did, they raised over $2,000 in total for different causes. That blew me away.”