Patient's mother cooks up a fund-raiser

Gemma Wupperman displays her baked goods

ySt. Jude saved the life of her son. For the past two
decades,Gemma Wupperman has been using her
culinary talents to show her gratitude.

Take two parts elbow grease, one part gratitude and—voilà! You have a series of bake sales that cover two decades and raise thousands of dollars for St. Jude.

It began as a simple bake sale. Today, it has evolved into a full-fledged ethnic extravaganza, a culinary delight for friends and customers, and a special tribute to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

You see, Gemma Wupperman cooks to say “thank you” to St. Jude for saving the life of her son, Eric.

“I wanted to do something to help them out,” she recalls. “I couldn’t do bike-a-thons or golf tournaments or any of those things. The only thing I knew how to do was a bake sale.” The first year, Wupperman made a number of cakes and cookies and other sweets and held a bake sale in her home. That sale raised between $300 and $400 for the hospital.  
She recently put the finishing touches on her 20th annual bake sale for St. Jude, which raised $3,000. Wupperman says she is thrilled to have played a role in helping St. Jude continue the work that saved her son’s life. “I want to help other children the way my child was helped,” she says.

Wupperman and her family arrived at St. Jude only a couple of years after moving to the United States from Trinidad. A doctor told her that her young son had acute lymphoblastic leukemia and that he needed treatment. The family had no friends to speak of and no medical insurance. Then the physician suggested St. Jude as a place where Eric could receive quality treatment. Although the family had never heard of the hospital, they elected to follow the doctor’s advice. “They were wonderful there,” Wupperman says about the St. Jude staff.
Wupperman never dreamed that her bake sale would become a long-standing tradition or that it would experience such growth. Following the first year, the sale of sweets was overshadowed by sales of other dishes. Some items, such as pelau, a chicken-rice combination, retained the ethnic flavors of her native Trinidad. Others, like aros con pollo, hailed from South America.
When the fund-raising project outgrew Wupperman’s home, Eric’s school donated its facilities for her use. Gradually the events evolved into what she calls “bring-and-buy” bake sales. People who came to buy the scrumptious food were asked to bring items of their own to replace what they had purchased. Donations ranged from fruit baskets to potted plants: “anything that would sell,” says Wupperman, who still caters to her customers’ demands for variety by baking about 40 different dishes.
Wupperman, who lives in Florida, has decided that it may be time to put the baking aside, but she says she intends to continue volunteering for St. Jude. 
And her son? He’s following in his mother’s footsteps. The 27-year-old cancer survivor is a chef in Colorado.

Summer 2002