A little boy named Harlem hides cookies in his pockets.
He comes into the Boys & Girls Club on Casino Road every morning asking for one. The cookies are playground currency. An oatmeal raisin cookie for a peanut butter one.
What kids may not realize is that the cookies are good for them. They’re made with fruit and whole grains.
Erin Baker of Bellingham delivers 10,000 breakfast cookies each month to 18 Boys & Girls Clubs across the state. The club in south Everett receives 800 of those.
Baker opened a bakery as a way to continue her mother’s legacy.
“She educated me at an early age about the importance of eating whole foods,” Baker said.
Her mother would make “oatmeal cakes” from ripe bananas, plums, apricots and anything else Baker turned up her nose to as a young girl. The mashed-up fruit was a substitute for sugar.
“She called it cake so that we’d eat it,” Baker said.
That’s where Baker got the idea for the breakfast cookies.
She set a goal 10 years ago to help feed 1 million kids something nutritious. She is nearing the halfway mark.
“Eating healthy is a challenge we all experience,” she said. “If a kid doesn’t have any fuel in their body, it will affect their ability to learn, perform in athletics, and it will impact proper development in their brains and bodies.”
About 200 kids stop by the club in south Everett each day. Unit Director Jake Marsh said 87 percent of the kids receive free and reduced lunches at school.
“A lot of kids don’t receive a healthy meal unless they’re here at the club or at school,” Marsh said.
Breakfast cookies are given out as snacks and as rewards for a good deed or an A on a math test. Marsh doesn’t feel guilty passing out the breakfast cookies, like he does with candy.
Getting used to healthy food takes time, Baker said. Vending machines at the Boys & Girls Club used to be stocked with packaged and processed snacks. Most were made with artificial flavors, which is what many kids have become accustomed.
“It’s resetting their palate,” Baker said.
The club has begun filling vending machines with healthy drinks and food.
Baker learned at a young age that treats are fine, but in moderation. She would divide up her Halloween candy to last her months.
Both Baker and Marsh are noticing a difference among kids, as shown by Harlem’s daily visits for breakfast cookies.
About seven years ago, Baker began setting up a table at Mount Baker for their Winter Ride Program. Busloads of kids get dropped off for a day at the mountain. Ski instructors noticed most of them were hitting the slopes on empty stomachs.
Kids would crash by midday, eat too much at lunch and not feel well for the rest of the afternoon, Baker said.
She and volunteers hand out bowls of granola and milk every Saturday morning from January to March. For those who didn’t want to waste a minute, they grabbed a breakfast cookie for the ski lift ride.
“The challenge of eating breakfast is not going to get easier. The world is becoming ever more fast-paced,” she said.
Breakfast cookies fit in a pocket and can be eaten on the go, Baker said.