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Chris Smith: Santa Rosa girl, 9, donates $500 to the food pantry she and her widowed mom rely on

Nine-year-old Lexi Lawson started up with the cookies long before all this.

The smart and kind Santa Rosa kid was 7 when, with her folks’ help, she first raised money for others less fortunate by baking and selling cookies during the holiday school break. Back then, her dad, Adam Lawson, was alive and seemingly healthy and her mom hadn’t lost much of her income to the coronavirus pandemic.

A book Lexi had read told of children acting to help people and animals needing a hand. She told me, “I felt like something inside me told me there are other people who are having a harder time, and I could do something for them.”

The first year, 2018, she and her mom, Becky Warner Lawson, baked and nicely packaged cookies and dog biscuits. Many packages from Lexi’s Sugar Dream Bakery sold at the family-friendly Barley & Bine Beer Cafe in Windsor, where Becky worked at the time.

Lexi donated the sales proceeds to Social Advocates for Youth, host of an array of services for teens and young adults dealing with serious hardships. Again over the 2019 holidays, Lexi and her mother baked chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies and organic pumpkin dog biscuits like crazy. That time, the girl gave the money from the sales to the Windsor-based Green Dog Rescue Project.

It wasn’t just a few dollars. All told, Lexi donated about $2,000 to SAY and the pet rescue operation.

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THE YEAR 2019 was a big one for the Lawsons. Both of Lexi’s parents stopped working for others and made the leap to going into business for themselves. Adam offered wine club management for small wineries; Becky became an independent event planner.

Then Adam died. The graduate of Napa’s Vintage High School collapsed from heart failure on Jan. 8, 2020. He was 47 years old.

Becky and Lexi were slowly healing when the pandemic spread around the globe and quickly assured that nobody in Sonoma-Napa Wine Country needed an event planner. Becky’s income dwindled.

Short on money for food, she turned to Elisha’s Pantry, a godsend to people throughout Santa Rosa’s Bennett and Rincon valleys who struggle to make ends meet. The little pantry is located alongside a flourishing vegetable garden at Christ Church United Methodist on Yulupa Avenue, which operates it through a partnership with Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Shomrei Torah.

There’s more on Elisha’s Pantry online at www.srchristchurch.org/about-us.

Pantry volunteers give away organic garden produce and other foods at drive-thru distributions on Thursday afternoons. Like other pantries everywhere, this one has seen a huge increase in demand as fallout of the COVID-19 crisis put people out of work.

“I would say it’s doubled,” said the coordinator of the interfaith Elisha’s Pantry, Lien Cibulka. She said that prior to the pandemic, 40 to about 60 people would come on Thursdays for food. These days there are 80 to about 110.

Among them, sometimes, are Becky and Lexi Lawson. They go when they need to.

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LATE IN 2020, nearly a year after losing her dad, Lexi managed a pandemic-era, scaled-down version of her charitable cookie sale.

Just recently, Elisha’s Pantry received a letter from Becky, a card from Lexi and a $500 donation. It was $500 the mother and daughter brought in from their latest cookie-and-biscuit sale, money they could have used for themselves.

But they’d raised those dollars for giving. And they agreed it should go to the pantry that helps them and so many others.

“I really appreciate all that you have done for us,” Lexi wrote in her card. “All those yummy foods, drinks and desserts that kept us afloat (especially the desserts).”

The messages and the $500 gift touched the pantry’s Cibulka to her core.

“I cried so hard, my kids were really concerned,” she said. “Five hundred dollars is a lot of money for a family that has to stand in line to get food from us.”

Lexi and her mom are sure they’ll be OK. When they talk about what they’ll do in the future, one idea is to raise more money for helping others by putting on a second yearly bake sale, in the summer.

A friend of Lexi and Becky opened a crowdfunding appeal for them following Adam’s death, and recently reactivated it. It is at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/gmmr3-adam-lawson-memorial-and-family-fund

You can contact Chris Smith at 707 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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