With a combination of chocolate, nuts and graham crackers, the Molina family’s cookie recipe is so special that it was reserved for birthdays only. But wanting to share the deliciousness with others and help people at the same time, 16-year-old Mateo Molina has been baking and selling the cookies to his community in Pleasanton, California, and donating the funds to help people in Colombia through his organization, HumanKIND Cookies.
Since starting in the summer of 2020, Mateo and his sister, Sara, have baked and sold around 15,000 cookies to raise $30,000, all of which has been donated to Casa San Jose, a nonprofit organization focused on helping the most vulnerable people of Cali, Colombia, including senior citizens, foster children, low-income families and people who work as recyclers (one of the city’s lowest-paid and difficult jobs.) The money has been used to buy them groceries, diapers, school supplies and shoes, and even to fund special events such as a trip to the zoo.
Along with the day-to-day cookie baking, Mateo has ramped up HumanKIND Cookies’ reach by initiating social media campaigns on Instagram to motivate others to contribute. And his efforts have been recognized by awards and grants, which have only multiplied his impact.
How did HumanKIND Cookies start?
Originally, it was a summer project that my sister and I started to just bake cookies and sell them locally to friends and family. We were going to raise all that money and send it to Casa San Jose, which is a charity in Colombia. Casa San Jose would use that money to buy food and other basic supplies. Our friends spread the word around and it turned out a lot of our community really enjoyed the cookies.
We eventually got into the Pleasanton Weekly and that spread it a lot. As of today, we’ve made around 15,000 cookies to make around $30,000. That money multiplies by almost five times when it goes into Colombian pesos, so it helps them a lot. The $5 you spend on a cookie box, it’s very helpful to them.
Why did you want to help people in Cali, Colombia?
Most of our family lives in Colombia so we’re pretty up to date with what’s happening over there. It was very, very hard for many during the pandemic there and it still is today. One of the most impactful moments for me was learning that this was the first time they had ever gotten protein in their groceries. They had eggs and chicken and that was a crazy experience for me because I take it for granted so much. We have chicken and meat almost every day. It was such an eye-opening experience.
How has HumanKIND Cookies grown since it first started?
As our initiative was more recognized, both in Pleasanton and in Colombia, I started including more people to multiply the impact. I use Instagram campaigns motivating others to participate in specific projects. I am also lucky to have been selected to participate in GivingTuesday’s Starling Collective in 2021, and I was awarded the Starling Excellence Award for my leadership and commitment to increase generosity. The monetary award allowed me to jump start numerous service projects involving contributions from others and maintain my goal of driving a quarterly community project, while still contributing to Casa San Jose.
Some of the projects from this past year are raising funds to donate 2,880 diapers for foster children through Fundación Chiquitines in Cali, Colombia, donating 10 duffle bags packed with treats to Agape Foster Family Agency in San Ramon, California, and donating $850 to support Ukrainian refugees.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
One of the things that inspires me the most and makes me want to keep going on are the pictures, videos and letters they send showing their gratitude. In the videos, the kids will show their new backpacks and you can see how happy they are. It makes me so happy.
What are some of your favorite memories you’ve made with the people at Casa San Jose?
Last December, we went to Cali and met the kids. We invited them to the zoo. Sadly, it rained heavily so we could only do the indoor exhibits, but they were so excited to see the fish, lizards and frogs. These kids live in Colombia, which is known for its wildlife, but they had never seen fish before. They were taking pictures with them and jumping up and down in excitement.
We also helped organize this party for 50 elders and children there. The cookie sales and donations helped fund a magician, food, drinks and 50 pairs of new shoes. A local bakery in Cali baked our cookies for us and donated them to the party so the children could actually try the cookies that were helping them.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
How things that we see as little can go such a long way. When I saw those ads on TV asking for donations of a couple dollars, I didn’t think it would help much. But now that I have been doing this for a while, I’ve realized that the $5 we make from a cookie box goes such a long way because it can supply a family with a week’s worth of food in Colombia.
A story that stuck with me was about this kid who had to walk to school barefoot. And all he had to hold his school supplies was a plastic bag. But now he has shoes and a backpack, so it’s just so crazy to see how much of a difference you can make on somebody’s life. A little difference can go a long way.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mateo? Find local volunteer opportunities.