Cookies taste even better when it comes with a side of philanthropy. 

By Hana Hong
September 21, 2020
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When Dana Perella was 7 years old, her best friend was diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease called Batten, a genetic mutation of the nervous system that causes symptoms like seizures and loss of motor skills. Determined to help Mila’s family fund research for a cure, Dana decided to bake and sell cookies. Every weekend, she pulled a wagon filled with cookies door-to-door through her neighborhood. Three months later, she’d met her $1,000 goal.

Dana Perella, founder of Cookies4Cures
| Credit: Barron Prize

But she wasn't finished there. Dana wanted to extend their message outside of Boulder, Colo., so she took her mission online. Dubbing her initiative Cookies4Cures, she created a GoFundMe page with a goal of a few thousand dollars. It went viral. Fueled by the response, Dana asked friends to help her bake and they started holding cookie pop-ups—events where they educated people about rare diseases and offered cookies in exchange for donations. 

Her community of helpers snowballed when they received their first big order of 1,000 cookies for Colorado Pet Pantry. Dana and her mom, Alexis, asked anyone willing to join them to bake and help box the cookies. Soon enough, the group grew from family, friends, and teachers to a team of nearly 100 volunteers, all of whom offer their time, supplies and kitchens to help bake tens of thousands of cookies.

In the end, they raised over $56,000—56 times her original goal—for Batten research, which led to the first-ever treatment for Mila's form of Batten.

That success fueled her desire to continue campaigning, and since then, the numbers have only multiplied. Three years later, Dana has helped other children with rare childhood diseases by baking over 12,000 cookies to help fund research for treatments, which translates to a whopping $100,000. Her impressive baking resume even earned her the 2020 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes this September. 

“Science-based funding is our mission,” says Dana. “When there isn’t a cure, the only thing to do is to help scientists do research to find one. We fund research because for kids with rare diseases, research is hope.”

The following year, Dana raised $30,000 to help fund research for another rare pediatric neuro-psychiatric disease known as Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) for her friend Ollie; he had received the available treatments, but they were not effective for him. “For most of these kids, the treatments they need aren’t available yet. This is why we chose research; it has to be research,” said Alexis.

In 2020, Cookies4Cures is focusing on Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Her goal is to raise $50,000 for CureSMA, which is half of a $100,000 research grant that will fund a project to target older teens with the disease. “SMA is a rare disease where your muscles get weak. Our friend Ben has it,” said Dana. “He is 16, so our focus is to help him and teens like him.”

Dana also says that she would like to find more partners willing to donate baking supplies to take some of that responsibility off her family volunteers and her mom. Her vision is to create a Cookies4Cures fundraiser for every rare childhood disease. “I hope that I can inspire more people to do their part,” says Dana. “For anyone who wants to change the world, I have two pieces of advice: 1) Believe in yourself and 2) Just start.” 

If you want to help support by ordering cookies or donating, check out their website at cookies4cures.com. You can also follow them on Instagram for all the latest news and initiatives.