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Feeding the world, one cookie at a time

Veronica Acurero doesn't need to watch news footage about food shortages in Venezuela. The 9-year-old has heard the stories first hand. "There's a lot of people down there who are starving," said Acurero. "My parents know people that were plump a...

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Fourth graders Callie Peterson, left, and Veronica Acurero discuss bake sales they are organizing to raise money for people in Venezuela at Northern Lights Elementary School Wednesday. Most of Acurero's relatives live in Venezuela, which is in the midst of an economic crisis. Many people don't have enough to eat, she said. The students plan to send the money they raise to families in Venezuela who will purchase food to share with the community. Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

Veronica Acurero doesn't need to watch news footage about food shortages in Venezuela. The 9-year-old has heard the stories first hand.

"There's a lot of people down there who are starving," said Acurero. "My parents know people that were plump and now they're super skinny because they don't have money for food."

Acurero's parents immigrated to the Twin Ports area from Venezuela. They received their American citizenship weeks ago, but they worry about family members who remain in the economically-ravaged country.

"There's people that are digging in the garbage," Acurero said. "They don't have food so they have to, that's what they have to eat."

She and fellow fourth-grader Callie Peterson aim to fight hunger in Venezuela with sweet treats. The pair are organizing two bake sale fundraisers April 11 and April 25 at Northern Lights Elementary School.

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"The girls are truly amazing," fourth-grade teacher Stacy Burfield said. "They are the kind of students that humble you and making you think, 'Hmmm ... why don't more adults step up to solve problems like this?'"

The two friends cooked up the plan during the before-school latchkey program.

"I was thinking we should do something, at least something to raise at least a little money," Acurero said.

"And I was thinking 'bake sale,'" Peterson said.

They were inspired by a series of fifth-grade bake sales last year that raised more than $2,000 to bring in Holocaust speaker Marion Blumenthal-Lazan. Bakers are already lining up to help, including classroom volunteer Angie Rikkola.

"She bakes for our class all the time," Acurero said. "My dad is in love with her brownies."

Word is Rikkola will also make puppy chow, a treat art teacher Kerri Gordon loves.

"I don't think her oven ever turns off," Burfield said. "In fact, her husband, Dave, always says that their house constantly smells of cupcakes."

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Peterson, who likes to bake but hates the mess, plans to make sugar cookies and pumpkin muffins for the sale. Acucero's neighbor stepped up to provide treats, as well.

Acurero has put together a flyer publicizing the sale, which will take place during lunch at the school. She and Peterson are working on a video to share with classroom teachers. They've got a lot of projects to crank out in a short period of time, but to them it's worth it.

"I just want to help somehow because it's so hard down there," Acurero said.

They hope to raise about $150, which should stretch even farther due to the monetary exchange rate.

"Anything that somebody would buy could help many people in Venezuela," Peterson said.

Northern Lights parents are encouraged to send their students with extra change to purchase treats during the sale. Monetary donations from the community will be accepted at the school's main office.

Every dollar raised will be sent down to families in Venezuela. Acurero said it will be used to purchase food, which will be cooked and shared with the community.

"I think the bake sale is a great way to empower these girls to become world-changers, and I think it truly will help those in need," Burfield said. "I am so proud of their efforts to do something to make a difference."

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Nearly all of Acurero's relatives live in Venezuela, including both sets of grandparents.

"I've never met my little cousins, uncles or aunts," Acurero said. "I've only seen them on a picture or just a voice mail or on the phone. Or sometimes we'll do FaceTime."

She hopes for a day when she can talk to them face to face and give them a hug, although they haven't been able to secure visas at this point.

"Family isn't a thing you can always do on the phone," Peterson said. "I just felt like if Veronica were to meet her family, it would be overloaded joy."

For now, they're focused on helping feed those in need. And they encourage people to learn more about the current economic crisis in Venezuela, as well as hardships being faced in other countries.

"It's not just one place that's having a hard time," Peterson said.

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