By: Megan Roche
For Morris Knolls Junior, Olivia O’Donnell, her passion came at the age of eight. Olivia, the baby of the O’Donnell family, tried everything from gymnastics, dance, and art classes but never truly found her niche. After her mom dropped her and big sister, Molly, at a cake decorating class at a local Michaels, it finally all came together. Olivia loved it so much that she asked that her 10th birthday party be held at Ava’s Cupcakes, a bakery that had won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.
Following the party, the bakery owner told mom, Jamie, that she was very impressed with Olivia’s abilities and offered to have Olivia begin a junior apprenticeship.
Unfortunately, at the same time, Olivia’s dad, Chuck, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and began a year long stint of surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy.
As Chuck was preparing for his final treatment of chemotherapy, Olivia wanted to thank the doctors and nurses for saving her dad’s life so baked a superhero sheet cake since he is a big superhero buff. Thanks to the doctors and nurses, Olivia got a second chance with her dad.
Arriving at the hospital for his final chemotherapy appointment, Chuck greeted the staff with the cake baked and decorated by Olivia. The team of doctors and nurses were so grateful and were amazed at Olivia’s incredible talent. For only ten years old, the cake was a masterpiece. From that moment on, Sweet Livy’s was born.
“Once the doctors and nurses found out that this cake was baked by a ten year old, it made it even more special. The cake was the talk of the floor. It’s still a story that the doctors and nurses share. It definitely left an impact on them and it was really cool to see them react like that.” Chuck said.
After posting a photo of the superhero cake on Facebook, Jamie was contacted by someone from the American Cancer Society to see if Olivia would be willing to participate in their upcoming Relay for Life. It was at that point that Olivia made the commitment to raise funds for cancer research through her baking. She decided her business would be called Sweet Livy’s and sat down and created her own logo.
Since that time, Chuck has made a full recovery, but Olivia has kept her commitment to bake for cancer. Churning out thousands of cupcakes a year, Sweet Livy’s has partnered with the American Cancer Society and Viking Bakery and Olivia will be baking for her seventh year for the Relay for Life in June.
To bake a ton of cupcakes, you would need a pretty big kitchen, right? When Chuck beat cancer, the family was approached by George Oliphant of the TV show George to the Rescue in 2013. After hearing about Liv’s charity baking aspirations and what Chuck had gone through health wise, Oliphant and his team were inspired to help.
The O’Donnell’s kitchen was not functional, the oven taking an hour just to preheat. With Olivia involved in the cupcake baking business, their kitchen just wouldn’t do. The show moved the family to a nearby hotel while Oliphant and his team demolished their old kitchen and built a beautiful new one for them. As an extra special treat for an extra special girl, they surprised Olivia with a brand-new Kitchen Aid mixer, complete with a pulley system to move it up and down from its own unique cabinet storage space.
One might say that because of a devasting diagnosis, Olivia was able to find her passion and joy. Her ultimate goal is to raise $30,000 for cancer research. While it may seem like an arbitrary number to some, it has special meaning to Olivia and cancer patients nationwide.
“$30,000 helps one person receive eight weeks of chemotherapy. I want to try to raise enough to put at least one person through chemotherapy treatments.” Olivia said.
Olivia is sponsored by Viking Bakery, who generously provide her with all the ingredients and baking space she needs to bake the over 1,000 cupcakes each year that help raise money for the American Cancer Society. She spends two full days baking, icing, and decorating, usually from right after school and well into the night. You’re probably wondering if this sixteen-year-old wants any help and the answer is no.
“I go there, and I am there all day baking and a couple days later, I’m there all day frosting and decorating. I am very particular with decorating so I do everything myself. I make everything from scratch.” Olivia shared.
Now a junior in high school, Olivia is known as the baker amongst her community. She bakes all the desserts for family parties and for those who request her special treats. However, she knows that it wouldn’t have all happened if it weren’t for the people who helped her get there along the way, especially the folks at Viking Bakery.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Viking Bakery of Denville for their extreme generosity and thoughtfulness. They supply me with not only their facility to bake in but all of my ingredients and packaging. This would have been so much more challenging without them and I am forever grateful.” Olivia said.
While she is at the bakery, there is a lot prep work that goes into Olivia’s baking crusade. Since everything is made from scratch, she has to test out the oven temperature to make sure her cupcakes will rise properly and has had to learn how to create her recipes on a mass scale. She bakes batch after batch at the bakery and even has secret ingredients that not even her family knows.
As Olivia will be preparing for college next year, this will be her final year of participating in the Relay for Life. Once she graduates from high school in 2020, she plans on attending college to major in business. As for those baking aspirations? Her dream is to be able to open her own café where her creations can be shared with a wider audience.
“We are very proud of her. This has become part of our annual routine. We have had a lot of support from our community and their generosity and encouragement have motivated Olivia to keep going each year. Olivia’s sister, Molly, also gets involved by gathering her friends on the day of the event to help us set up and we always celebrate afterwards with friends and family. We aren’t sad that she’s not going to participate in the Relay anymore, but it is going to be different next year when she’s not involved.” Jamie and Chuck shared.
“I have always been proud of my sister’s accomplishments and am so thankful to be a member of a college sorority that supports the Make a Wish Foundation, raising money for children with cancer,” said Molly, Olivia’s older sister.
Giving back to others is in Olivia’s blood. When she is not baking, she’s volunteering with the Leo Club, which sponsors a Special Olympics event for Morris Knolls and Morris Hills area students, the Key Club, and is a major member of the Morris Knolls choirs.
If you think these are just run of the mill cupcakes, think again. Olivia gets very involved when it comes to flavors. Past flavors include banana split, chocolate salted caramel, margarita, and many more. Don’t fear though, Olivia also makes the classic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes as well. To raise additional donations, Olivia and her family sell Sweet Livy’s bracelets and t-shirts.
Preorders for Sweet Livy’s cupcakes will start on May 1. Olivia is currently planning out the flavors for this year’s fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and more information will be available once the flavors are determined on Sweet Livy’s Facebook page. Straight donations can also be made at www.main.acsevents.org/goto/sweetlivys. All monies raised from cupcake, bracelet, and t-shirt sales are donated to the American Cancer Society for cancer research.