Abby Wodrich, 8, of Porter, one of the young "Cupcake Crusaders," waves to attracts motorists at Lemon Tree Mediterranean Grill in Chesterton to raise money for a Childrenâs Organ Transplant Association fundraising campaign. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2013 11:52PM
They call themselves the “Cupcake Crusaders.”
They’re a group of kids from Porter and Chesterton who’ve been selling homemade cupcakes and fresh lemonade to raise money for a woman they’ve never met.
Stephanie Rath is a 44-year-old Indianapolis area woman who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and in need of a life-saving double lung transplant. She was first listed for a transplant in 1992 and she has since relocated to Pittsburgh while awaiting her new set of lungs. But the clock is ticking.
The leader of the Cupcake Crusaders, 8-year-old Abby Wodrich, knows the importance of a life-saving transplant. When she was 18 months old, she suffered kidney failure from birth due to a twin cord complication. Her twin sister, Emma, did not survive.
Abby received a kidney transplant in 2006 at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and she’s lived a relatively normal life ever since.
“The whole idea for the fundraiser was started by Abby and her best friend, Abby Atrosh,” explained Abby Wodrich’s mother, Lisa Wodrich. “We honestly never expected for the fundraising effort to take on a life of its own. The kids originally set a $200 goal for their little lemonade and cupcake stand.”
To date, the Cupcake Crusaders have raised nearly $2,000, including from a fundraising event earlier this month at the Lemon Tree Mediterranean Grill in Chesterton.
“They had an idea, devised a plan, spread the word among their friends and made it happen. They did everything from making the cupcakes and homemade lemonade to making signs and working the booth,” said Wodrich, who along with her husband, David, own Lemon Tree as well as the Third Coast Spice Café in town.
“Abby and my son, Ethan, are beyond excited. The whole thing has been so enriching for them,” Wodrich said. “Ethan constantly wants me to check on Stephanie through Facebook, and Abby is so excited for her to have her transplant.”
Other official members of the Cupcake Crusaders include Avery Linzy, Hailey Chapman and John and Aaron Koch, who helped make cupcakes, create flyers on a computer, and go door to door in their neighborhood to spread the word.
“This group of 14-plus kids has the biggest hearts and the most contagious enthusiasm I have ever seen,” Wodrich said. “It was amazing. A community rallied around a fellow human being who they didn’t know.”
Even Avery Linzy, “the shyest little girl” Wodrich has ever met, spent the day standing on the roadside yelling for passing motorists to enjoy a cupcake for a cause.
“The spirit of giving brought her out of her shell,” Wodrich noted.
A Chesterton bakery, Tonya’s Patisserie, also donated cupcakes to sell, and the Designer Desserts “cupcake truck” from Valparaiso offered a portion of its proceeds from sales, too.
“Everyone knew that Abby was fundraising through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, the same organization that helped her when she had her transplant,” Wodrich said. “They showed their support so beautifully.”
COTA (www.cota.org) is a national charity dedicated to helping children and young adults who need a life-saving transplant by providing fundraising assistance and family support. Over the past two decades, COTA has assisted more than 1,900 patients across the country, each one requiring a life-saving organ, bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
“The kids’ effort is really helping Stephanie keep her sunny side up while she waits patiently for the call that the perfect pair of lungs are ready for her transplant,” said COTA spokeswoman Kim Corbin. “Abby is really paying it forward and helping to raise awareness for organ donation at the same time.”
The Cupcake Crusaders expected nothing in return for their efforts, not even a thank you from Stephanie.
“They simply wanted to help because of the goodness that is innately in them,” Wodrich said. “They all cheered when they found out the total at the end of the day. It was so inspiring.”
The kids’ cupcakes and cups of lemonade were sold for $1 each, but it didn’t stop people from donating more to the cause. Some gave $20 for a cupcake. Others gave $5 for a cup of lemonade.
“One man came to me and asked questions about Stephanie and how we knew her,” Wodrich said. “He was really soft spoken and said he would like to donate. He handed me a $100 bill and walked away.”
Wodrich was speechless, but she blurted out an appreciative, “Thank you so very much!” No one knew the man. He drove off in a vehicle with Virginia plates.
It’s not too late to help the Cupcake Crusaders and their cause. Every dollar raised goes toward transplant-related expenses.
You can do so online by visiting www.cotaforstephr.com, or by calling or visiting the Lemon Tree Mediterranean Grill, 356 Indian Boundary Road in Chesterton. The grill’s number is 926-8733.
Tell ‘em you’re donating on behalf of the Cupcake Crusaders, or note “cupcake” in your online donation so the kids get their credit. Not that they care.
After the fundraiser, one of the kids yelled, “The Cupcake Crusaders should do this every month to raise money to help someone!”
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.