Sia Agnihotri said she “was feeling quite scared and nervous” for her grandparents in India last month when the country recorded more than 6.6 million COVID-19 cases.
The 11-year-old Ames sixth-grader wanted to help.
“I thought that if we could do this fundraiser, we can give them money and send it to them,” Sia said.
Selling homemade cheesecake came naturally as a fundraising idea. The dessert is one Sia and her mother, Manu Agnihotri, are “very experienced” in making, she said.
Sia decided on a recipe for no-bake cheesecake jars, which she calls “Jars of Hope.” The jars cost $5 each.
“With baking, you need an adult most of the time to make sure nothing happens with the oven and stuff like that,” Sia said. “No-bake is like, I can do it with just a bit of my mom’s help and I can do the rest.”
Manu said her daughter wanted to “take a project that she can finish off independently.”
“I’m very proud of her,” Manu said.
Almost every day after Sia is done with school, she and Manu take two hours to make 20 to 30 cheesecake jars. Then, after dinner, they deliver the jars around town. Sia’s father, Raj — who’s “good at cooking but not in baking,” Sia says — does the driving.
Sia has sold 230 jars, and some people donate to her cause without even ordering any cheesecake. A total of $3,760 has been raised so far. The proceeds will be donated to three organizations — Sewa International, Sehgal Foundation and Yug Bharti, a local organization near where her grandparents live in Kanpur and Uttar Pradesh.
Every day after school, Sia excitedly asks her mother to check her email and see how many orders have come in.
Recently, they received their biggest order yet.
“Sia was so happy. She was like, ’74? Are you sure Mama, they said 74?'” Manu said Friday. “Tomorrow’s a busy day for us, but we are excited.”
Manu said their family and friends in India were “saved with God’s grace,” having dodged the virus up to now. On Wednesday, India reported 4,500 COVID-19 deaths, a single-day global record. With more than 25 million cases since the pandemic started, India’s number of infections is second only to the U.S.
When the Agnihotri family tries to send money to their loved ones, they send the funds back and ask that they be contributed to the “Jars of Hope” fundraiser.
“They are like, ‘we are ordering, you guys eat (the cheesecakes) on our behalf,” Manu said. “They are very excited and proud of her.”
Sia has been attending school virtually since November. She misses seeing her friends and going to band practice in person. With the fundraiser, she “can see so many people now” during deliveries.
“I’m actually getting really bored (at home),” she said, adding that she used to think going to school was boring.
Manu said witnessing the generosity of “complete strangers” gives their family a “sense of security.”
“It’s really a very good learning experience for her because there are so many nice and kind people in the community,” Manu said. “That is a big blessing for us.”
To order a cheesecake jar, email email@example.com with the subject line, “Hope in a Jar.”
Isabella Rosario is a public safety reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @irosarioc.