With school canceled for the summer, kids find ways to beat the heat and have fun.
And while 10-year-old Calhoun Elementary School student Annesleigh Melton does just that, she also spends much of her free time baking sweets and treats in the kitchen of her Calhoun home.
But it’s all for a good cause.
Since early June, Annesleigh Melton has been participating in the month-long St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Baking Challenge in honor of Cancer Survivor Month.
The challenge allows participants from across the country to support families with medical costs for treatment, travel, housing or food to focus on the child’s well-being and fight back.
But her baking journey has come a long way to this point, which started when she was about 4 years old.
“When I was little, I always baked a lot; I’ve made cookies, brownies and all that stuff,” said Annesleigh Melton. “But once the pandemic started, we couldn’t go out or do anything, so I just started doing a lot of bake sales.”
But before she started selling her creations, Annesleigh Melton just did it for fun.
“I just always thought it was funny,” she says. “You start with nothing and you start with a few things and then you do ‘that.’ ”
“She was always helpful in the kitchen,” said Andrea Melton, Annesleigh Melton’s mother.
She found influence watching baking-oriented competitive television shows like the Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship.”
“It was always fun[to watch]and I used to say to my mom, ‘When can I be there?’ ‘ said Annesleigh Melton.
Annesleigh Melton started her baking journey with a cherry chocolate chip cookie recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens book Snack Attack: Return of the Munchies without cherries due to her personal preference.
Eventually she switched to other foods such as cornbread, which persuaded her parents and other family members and encouraged Annesleigh Melton to continue baking.
When she first started hosting bake sales, Annesleigh Melton published her items on a Google Doc flyer via Andrea Melton’s Facebook account, where people commented under the post to place their order.
Their most popular sellers were Chocolate Chip and Chocolate No-Bake Cookies.
Back then it was a two-week process of ordering, baking and picking up.
Funds raised from the sales went to various organizations Annesleigh Melton felt was important to support her, such as the El Salvador-based non-profit Sus Hijos/Hijos/His Children, at the suggestion of her grandmother Kathy Ellsworth, who was running the country meanwhile went on a church mission trip.
She previously had experience participating in other St. Jude initiatives, including the WBKR St. Jude Radiothon.
For this challenge, participants are given a weekly theme or task of what to bake for each specific week, with the option to gift their creations to friends, family, or organizations in the community, or host a bake sale and donate the funds raised to their respective fundraiser to plug account.
On Wednesday she puts out her article list and takes orders until around Monday, the same day she bakes and picks it up on Tuesday.
Annesleigh Melton wanted to be able to help those who needed it.
“…It’s not good when you know there’s a little kid with cancer or a (disease) and they have to (live) on this (medical) equipment,” she said. “It’s just sad. Children shouldn’t have to live like this.
“…The people at the hospital take care of the children and the families don’t have to pay for it because if something is keeping you alive and you need it to survive, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. I don’t have to pay for it.”
Since the competition began, Annesleigh Melton has been challenged to bake biscuits and cakes and is currently working on bread.
“It’s fun and it helps a lot of people,” she said.
This was also the first time Annesleigh Melton had had first-hand experience of baking cakes from scratch, which she felt was initially a personal challenge.
“I’ve never baked a cake,” said Annesleigh Melton. “…The crust was by far the hardest.”
Still, she managed to bake lollipops that were chocolate dipped with white chocolate and lime zest, and hand cakes in the shape of empanadas.
And her attempts received her grandmother’s seal of approval, which is saying a lot considering she’s been known for baking cakes for some time.
“She actually tried the graham cracker crust and she just picked up a spoon and ate it,” said Annesleigh Melton. “She took a bite and then just kept nibbling on it. After eating it, she danced.”
The challenge has also enhanced Annesleigh Melton’s knowledge and skills, such as: B. learning how to use a zester.
She also applies what she learned in school to her firsthand experience as she follows the measurements in the recipes she selects from searches on Google and Pinterest.
“When I started this baking challenge, I didn’t know I was going to gain all these skills,” she said.
Her efforts paid off, meeting or exceeding her personal weekly goal of raising $150.
Andrea Melton sees similarities between Annesleigh Melton and Kathy Ellsworth.
“…If she was put on earth to do nothing else, she was put on earth to serve other people,” she said. “I would say that’s where Annesleigh gets her heart into doing things for other people.”
“Helping other people… makes me feel good,” said Annesleigh Melton.
Annesleigh Melton could see how her efforts in the kitchen influenced others when she received a letter from St. Jude after the radiothon.
“They sent a picture of a kid that I was helping his whole family with…” she said. “He got sick … with a lot of colds and when they finally found out what was wrong with him; he found out he had leukemia.
“It makes me happy because things I enjoy doing can help a lot of people.”
“As a 10-year-old, she could do a lot of things that summer that didn’t involve helping other people,” Andrea Melton said. “I’m just proud that she’s doing something she loves, learning new skills and being able to help others.”