- Sara Weinrod
Dawn Leijon and Her Industrial Kitchen
Students making pies in the Leijon kitchen Credits: Sara Weinrod
When Walls sports teams and clubs need money, they often turn to Dawn Leijon and her family’s industrial kitchen over at Killdeer Valley Farm.
Their kitchen is equipped to prepare enormous quantities of baked goods — hundreds of pies and tens of thousands of cookies in a single day — which teams and clubs can then sell to friends and families at a hefty profit.
Ms. Leijon and her family have hosted Walls teams and clubs at their home in Woodbine, Md., since the first fundraiser they sponsored in 2018. Over the last five years, their bake sales have raised almost $90,000 for six different student groups, including Model UN and the baseball, volleyball, field hockey, ultimate frisbee and tennis teams.
Ms. Leijon is a Walls parent, which led to her involvement with these various teams. But her remarkable kitchen has a much longer history.
“When I was in college, my dad gave me a large mixer,” Ms. Leijon said. “It was a 20-quart mixer. He found it in the junk shop, he fixed it up, and I didn’t know what to do with that. Then we decided to get together and make Christmas cookies.
“So for 30 years, we got together a group of people, and it got a little bigger and it got a little bigger. And for the last ten years, we were making 30,000 cookies in a day, like a one-day factory.”
Later on, when her sons played on the baseball team, Walls athletic director Kip Smith informed her that the baseball team could benefit from some more funding.
“[Mr. Smith] said that if [the baseball team] really wanted to get better, we should do fall baseball, we should do winter conditioning, we should have extra coaching. All that costs money,” recalled Ms. Leijon, who serves as the Walls Home and School Association (HSA) treasurer. That was when she decided to sponsor a fundraiser.
In the first year of fundraising, 2018, the baseball team raised around $6,600. Every year since, the team has held a cookie platter fundraiser. Even during the COVID pandemic, the team had “people working outside all day in the cold,” Ms. Leijon said.
After such a resounding success, the operation would only continue to expand. This school year, they made 24,000 cookies and $14,460.
In 2019, Model UN began baking pies, a less demanding process. Many other teams would soon follow.
There are a variety of reasons behind Ms. Leijon’s success. The baked goods are tasty, for one thing. “Ms. Leijon’s pies are honestly the best pies I’ve ever tried because of the homemade crust,” Hugo Rosen (‘24) said. “You can definitely taste the effort she puts into making them, as well as all the great fillings student volunteers make throughout the day.”
“You want it to be good,” Ms. Leijon said. “So when we come to the Walls community next time and say we’re making pies again, they’re going to be like, ‘This is not a sacrifice. This is good stuff. And it gets delivered to my door.’”
Another strategic move is centering the fundraisers around a holiday, such as Thanksgiving or Easter. “The philosophy about doing something around the holiday is that you’re tapping into spending people were already going to do,” she said.
Finally, a particularly effective move has been providing an option for those who do not want to buy a pie for themselves to purchase a pie to be donated to a food bank. “It's like a double win,” Ms. Leijon said.
Each organization has different plans for what to do with the money they raise. For Model UN, it might be traveling to their next conference. For the tennis team, the goal is to “play non-conference matches against private schools,” said team captain Ben Yarkin (‘24), which requires funding for transportation.
Ms. Lejion does a huge amount of work behind the scenes to keep the whole process running. Raising this much money is an intensive endeavor. Ms. Leijon begins even before students arrive, making the necessary trips to Costco and setting up workstations a few days before.
For reference, dozens of pies of various flavors might call for 4.5 bushels of apples, 29 pounds of sugar, 25 pounds of flour, 1.5 cups of cinnamon, half a cup of nutmeg, 10 lbs of butter, 1 cup of vanilla extract, and a whopping 84 eggs. Ms. Leijon might test out a pie recipe four different times over the course of a week to perfect it for mass production.
Ms. Leijon said her mother, Sharon Leijon, also deserves much of the credit. “She is the one that keeps opening her house to this craziness.”
Sharon Leijon — whom all affectionately call Grammy — said her family’s support for Walls comes from a desire to do its part. “We just feel well-equipped [to help],” she said. “How many people have that many big bowls? Doesn’t exist.”
Despite the fact that none of Ms. Leijon’s children have been on the baseball team since 2020, she continues to conduct the yearly fundraisers.
“When Dawn started this, she saw a need,” Sharon Leijon said. “And she questioned why [teams] didn’t have equipment and funds. And she said, ‘Well, why isn’t anybody fundraising? This is ridiculous.’ We’re a family that [when] we see a need or a problem, and if we have the ability to, we try and solve it.”