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12-year-old puts passion for cooking to work supporting charities

By Kendra Caruso | Jan 21, 2021
Courtesy of: Jennie Damon Anah Shriner Potentate Tim Dutch; Boston Board of Governors Association member Dave Gulya; Cooper Wren; Cooper's mother, Meagan Valles; Cooper's dad, Caleb Wren; and Boston Board of Governors Association member Ryan Otis, from left, hold a giant check representing Cooper's donation to Shriners Hospitals from his summer earnings.

Thorndike — For the past five years, Cooper Wren, 12, has donated his summer earnings from a snack shack he runs at Back 40 MX in Norridgewock called Cooper’s Snack Shack. This year he donated it to Shriners Hospitals for Children’s Boston burn care in Massachusetts.

He raised $1,500 this year and thinks it would have been more if not for COVID-19. Until last summer, he had been able to raise more in donations every year. In previous years he has donated to The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, Make-a-Wish Foundation and other charities that have helped people he knows, many of whom are friends from the dirt bike track where his little brother races.

Cooper was 8 in 2016 when he started selling lemonade and chocolate chip cookies under a pop-up tent before being offered the use of a small building by the track owners, he said. Everything is priced at $1 or less so kids can afford something with their allowance money or change from their parents' car.

The snack shack has blossomed into the longest-running concession stand at the race track and allows him to expand his baked goods inventory to include whoopie pies — a Cooper signature offering, brownies, and a variety of cookies and candies. He also offers snow cones, his top seller.

“Snow cones are the number-one seller, but whoopie pies are a close second. People come with Shop N' Save bags to fill up on the whoopie pies,” his mother, Meagan Valles, said.

“They’re always the first thing to go,” Cooper added.

Cooper said he has a passion for cooking and baking, which is how the idea was born. He hopes to own his own food truck when he grows up. For his birthday he asked for a generator so he could run a snow cone machine.

Valles said she thinks this is a good experience for him to learn how to run a business. She thinks the shack is teaching him how to be kind and manage money. He is also learning social skills necessary to work with the public.

Some of the money he earns goes back into supplies and inventory. But he also gets help from extended family members who bake items for him to sell. They also helped paint and prepare the shack for use.

Each year he has said that wants to be more independent, so his mother and grandmother stepped back to let him run the shack mostly on his own this year, Valles said.

“This year especially, he's kind of booted us out and taken over and wants to do it by himself now,” she said. “So we try to step in and give him a lunch break, but typically he does the selling now by himself.”

This year business was cut short because of the coronavirus. Cooper was able to work only four races out of the 10 that are usually scheduled during summer, he said. And when he was open he had to limit the number of people allowed in his shed. All of his baked items had to be wrapped, and he had to wear personal protective equipment while baking.

Because of these complications he has vowed to donate this summer’s earnings to the Shriners Hospitals again, hoping to be able to raise more money. He is also hoping to add walking tacos to the menu this year.

Cooper is thankful for the community at the race track that has supported him by giving him a place to sell his baked goods and for the donations he has received, from personal checks to people’s weekly pocket change.

The biggest reward for his mother is the pride she feels when she thinks about how selfless she has raised her son to be, which sometimes makes her feel overwhelmed with emotion, she said.

“A lot of kids might just take the money and blow it, but Coop, he’s just generous and he’s kind,” she said. “… It makes me so proud, just talking to you I’m getting a little teary-eyed thinking about what a good kid he is. And it’s really a big deal for a kid like him to donate every year to different organizations. It’s huge.”

Cooper Wren, 12, holds a giant check for the $1,500 he donated to the Shriners Hospitals from his summer earnings. (Courtesy of: Marie Valles)
Cooper Wren, right, hangs out the window of his snack shack at Back 40 MX selling baked goods for charity. (Courtesy of: Maria Valles)
Cooper Wren with his snack shack offerings. (Courtesy of: Maria Valles)
(Courtesy of: Maria Valles)
(Courtesy of: Maria Valles)
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