When an EF5 tornado hit Southwest Missouri May 22, 2011, one 12-year-old girl knew she had to make a difference. Tabitha Neuenschwander, a Joplin native, saw the tornado devastate the home of her older brother. Since then, she has spent her time raising money for the victims.
Because Tabitha didn’t initially know how to help, her mom Lesli asked her, “What would you miss most if you lost everything?” Tabitha’s immediate answer was, “My pets!” So she focused her fundraising efforts on helping kids who lost their pets get new ones to help comfort them during this tragic time.
Tabitha’s Bakesale was born out of her love for baking. Tabitha loves making homemade baked goods and gift baskets. This internet-savvy girl took her love of baking a step further, creating her own website selling “virtual” treats – with zero calories! – for people to choose from as they make donations. So far, she’s raised over $1,200 including donations for the gift baskets from restaurants and businesses nationally and internationally, including Nashville Wraps.
Tabitha uses the money she raises to buy $10 PetSmart gift cards for kids to purchase hamsters, reptiles, birds and supplies. She also encourages pet adoption at local shelters for dogs and cats. Initially, they had to wait to distribute the cards and pet baskets until families were out of FEMA trailers and into permanent housing.
She sells her baked goods at an event in downtown Joplin called ‘Third Thursday’. It starts in early Spring, and ends in early Winter. Tabitha is a smart marketer and uses Facebook to post where and when she will be having her bake sales.
Her next goal is to post flyers. However, she needs Epson brand ink and is hoping to receive donations for ink cartridges, along with chocolate chips for cookies. She said she always runs out of chocolate chips. Her current goal is to have a giant bake sale to benefit the city so a lot of people can bake and contribute.
She said the biggest need currently in Joplin is housing. Many people still don’t have a place to live. Also, many rebuilt homes still don’t have landscaping. Pictured to the left is the aftermath of the Joplin tornado (Note: the little girl is not Tabitha).
Once the children of Joplin no longer need pets, Tabitha would like to continue her bake sales to raise money for children affected by natural disasters wanting pets all across the country. She would also like to set up a pet food pantry to help families temporarily until they can get on their feet again.
Tabitha’s advice for other kids interested in helping their communities is to pick something they are best at and never be afraid just because you’re a kid. Have the courage to contact businesses too. She said most companies are happy to help.
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