Inspiring Wildcat: Morgan Belardo ’25

If you were to ask Morgan Belardo ’25 to name one of her biggest role models she would tell you her dad is among the top on her list.

Belardo’s father, who passed away in September 2022 following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, fully supported her dream to own a baking shop one day.

“He was one of my biggest supporters,” Belardo said. “I miss him very much.”

Morgan and her dad hold a purple alzheimer's banner Morgan started the annual bake sale in 2018 after her father's diagnosis.

When her father was diagnosed, their family began raising awareness about the disease. In response, they started an annual, one-day bake sale called The Sweet Exchange that has raised nearly $30,000 since launched in 2018. Proceeds from the bake sale go towards a chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and to the family’s recently launched advocacy program, The Deeper Window Association, which offers support and hope for families affected by dementia.

Belardo, a Baking & Pastry Arts student at the Johnson & Wales Charlotte campus, says she’s taking the techniques she’s learning in her labs and current internship experience and applying them to the annual bake sale that she, her family and community members put on year after year for a good cause.

How did you come up with this fundraising idea?

Morgan: I was a junior in high school when I came up with the idea. I was a part of Girl Scouts and wanted to go for my Gold Award, which is the highest award that a Girl Scout can earn. To get it, you must identify a community issue and an action plan to effect change. With my dad’s diagnosis, I wanted to advocate for him and others. So, I formulated a team, many of whom were other Girl Scouts alongside my family, and we launched the first bake sale. From word of mouth to the local newspaper advertising it and area businesses posting the information, word spread and we were able to raise more than $3,000 that first year. That was back in 2018.

Fast-forward to now, the annual bake sale, which takes place in my hometown in Kansas, has become something the community looks forward to each year. I think that’s because they want to support my family, the cause and the organizations that receive the proceeds. Each year it has gotten bigger and bigger, which means the impact I’m trying to make is also getting bigger.

Each year it has gotten bigger and bigger, which means the impact I’m trying to make is also getting bigger.

The bake sale is held in June in conjunction with the summer solstice, often referred to as ‘The Longest Day,’ by the Alzheimer’s Association. This highlights the day of the year with the most light — a day that always occurs in June. On that day, people from across the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through fundraising activity. Leading up to the bake sale, there are a lot of preparations. In more recent years, to meet demand, we’ve started taking pre-orders. When the pandemic struck, we were initially concerned about turnout, but people showed up to support the cause. Each year it gets larger with the number of people showing up growing each year.

Collage of Morgan in a chef uniform, bake sale and handing over donation check

Morgan puts her skills from JWU to work at the bake sale, which has rasied $30,000 over the years.

How much do you charge for the desserts you sell?

Morgan: That’s one of the most interesting things about this bake sale — everything is free! Instead of putting a price on the cookies, cakes and other sweet treats, we encourage people to choose whatever items they’d like and donate whatever they can.

I find that people want to give because they want to help. I am so grateful for the generosity and support over the years. I’m looking forward to many more bake sales as it’s my favorite part of summer because I get to visit home while honoring my dad.

What is your biggest takeaway from this philanthropic initiative?

Morgan: When I look at this bake sale and what it has become and will become, I am reminded of how my family is my biggest motivation. My dad was an amazing, thoughtful and kind human being before and throughout the disease. He was a Rear Admiral in the Public Health Services before being diagnosed. He spent his career devoted to helping other people. As one of my biggest supporters, I realized it was my turn to advocate for him after he was diagnosed.

My biggest takeaway is that I don’t do the bake sale every year for recognition — I do it for my dad and all the families who are experiencing a similar struggle.

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