Esther Hilsabeck’s great-grandparents survived the Holocaust and fled Europe decades ago as Jewish refugees. So, when the 7-year-old Squirrel Hill girl heard about Afghan refugees resettling in Pittsburgh in the midst of a foreign crisis, it made sense for her to do something to help.
“Me and my mom were talking about refugees, about some people helping out,” Esther told the Chronicle. “She told me the refugees had to leave their homes because there was something bad happening.”
Esther paired up with a friend, 6-year-old Alphie Doller, and held a fundraising bake sale recently at the Squirrel Hill Farmers’ Market.
This was no rag-tag effort.
Esther’s mother helped with baking, and the children made pumpkin muffins and chocolate chip cookies. They even enlisted a friend who’s a professional chef to prepare and donate sweet potato bread, ginger cookies and rugelach.
“I wanted to help them a lot so I made the bake sale with a lot of sugar,” Esther laughed. “Most people got a cookie or something [but] a few people just gave us money and walked away.”
The pair raked in more than $500 in about 90 minutes — no small feat for the budding philanthropists — and 100% of the proceeds went to Jewish Family and Community Services in Squirrel Hill.
Dr. Jordan Golin, president and CEO of JFCS, said he was immensely grateful for how much support the community has delivered for his group’s work with Afghan refugees. And he had nothing but kind words about the two young donors.
“We are honored that Esther and Alphie used their bake sale to raise money to help us provide for new refugee children coming to Pittsburgh,” Golin said. “They showed that anyone can really make a difference in their community. This is an example of why it is so important to help kids understand how they can help others and give them opportunities to get involved. Kids can really make a big impact.”
Alphie was modest about her role in the bake sale. She gave the Chronicle the list of special ingredients for her cookies that sold well — oats, M&Ms, Cow Tales brand caramel — and said her intentions were pretty straightforward.
“It’s so [the new refugees] could be just as comfortable here as they would be at their old homes,” Alphie said.
She also said she heard one recently resettled woman was expecting a baby soon. Alphie said she hoped her bake sale proceeds help fund a crib. Plus, winter’s coming, she added, so the refugees’ children will need good winter coats.
Esther, a second-grader at Sewickley Academy, said she had one message for people who were proud of her for organizing the bake sale.
“I think people should stand up for themselves and for other people, people like refugees,” Esther said. “They should help people who need help.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.