Cat Nickles, a recent eighth grade graduate and author of Quarantine Cookbook, has turned her comic-inspired recipe book into a fundraising force that has now garnered national attention.

After COVID-19 foiled her plans to open a pop-up restaurant at the Children’s School, 200 S. Oak Park Ave., as part of her capstone project, she pivoted to create a cookbook to sell as a fundraiser for Beyond Hunger, the local food pantry. She set out with a goal to raise $1,000 and before long the book had generated more than $5,000 for Beyond Hunger. 

Coverage of Nickles’ efforts in Chicago Parent magazine caught the attention of producers of  Live with Kelly and Ryan. Last Monday show producers reached out to Beyond Hunger and by Tuesday had gotten in touch with Nickels and her mother, Julia Huff. 

After learning Nickles had been selected for a show segment, the duo had to “scramble” to get a laptop capable of downloading Skype. Sarah Corbin, Beyond Hunger’s communications director, brought over a suitable laptop and Nickles was ready for her moment in the spotlight.

“I was paranoid about the early morning wake up,” said Nickles. “I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. even though I didn’t have to be ready until 8 a.m. I am always worried I will sleep through my alarm.”

On June 18, a fully awake Nickles was welcomed as a “Helping Hero” on the program airing live on the east coast. Host Ryan Seacrest inquired about Nickles’ eight-second indoor s’mores recipe and Kelly Ripa complimented her artistic ability as images of her recipe “story boards” flashed on the screen. 

“I was extremely nervous, but people said they couldn’t tell,” said Nickles. “I felt like I was going really fast so I kept telling myself to slow down.”

After the young writer and illustrator explained her project process and fundraising success, Seacrest announced Live with Kelly and Ryan and Safeguard were making a $5,000 donation to Beyond Hunger. 

A broad smile spread across Nickles’ face on-air as she said, “I’m speechless.”

“They had not told us about the donation,” said Huff. “I don’t think Cat expected this to be this this big. I am very proud.”

At the time Nickles recorded the show via Skype, “Quarantine Cookbook” had raised $7,340. Since her appearance sales of her PDF have generated $17,549; a whopping 1,755 percent of her original goal.

“Her continued hunger advocacy is huge! She has continued to be willing to talk about it and promote the cookbook and involve herself in social action to spark change,” said Corbin. “We are so grateful for the outpouring of support for Cat and her efforts — from the media and from people who just want to cheer Cat on from across the country. It’s amazing. We love being able to witness such kindness.”

Following her daughter’s television moment Huff said Nickles was “exhausted” and tucked herself into bed for an uncommon, but well-deserved nap.

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