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WATERLOO | When Mrs. Claus, aka Marie Nitzschke, rings the bell Saturday morning at North Star Community Services, no sweet tooth in the Cedar Valley stands a chance.

Nitzschke will sound the bell at 9 a.m., signaling the start of the 25th annual holiday cookie walk. Elves, played by granddaughters of the one of the volunteers, will be waiting nearby to help shoppers carry out their Christmas bounties.

"We always have 75 to 80 people waiting at the door to get in," said Shirley Fogleman.

Fogleman and Nitzchke are members of Joint Volunteers of Cedar Valley Arc, which has organized the walk for the last 25 years. Nitzschke and several others have been involved from the start.

"How it started was we didn't want to sell fruitcakes," Nitzschke joked.

The cookie walk raises $3,000 to $4,000 each year and is used to purchase equipment and fund activities for clients of North Star and the Exceptional Persons Inc. Choice program. Both agencies serve adults with developmental disabilities.

"We do this for our children," Fogleman said.

Every year, Fogleman bakes 25 dozen pressed Christmas cookies for the walk in memory of her developmentally disabled son Gregory, who passed away 11 years ago at age 45.

Nitzchke's daughter Anita, 60, and volunteer Barbara Jacobson's son, Chad, 44, are EPI Choice clients. For volunteer Sharon Johnson, it's her special needs grandson that inspires her to bake and donate 48 dozen cookies to the walk every year.

"Look around you," Johnson said, motioning to the excited North Star clients who were busy making dog treats to sell at the walk. "You attend any function and you go away with a happy heart."

Jodie Muller, director of development at North Star, said volunteers, churches, schools and other organizations in the Cedar Valley donate around 18,000 cookies and pounds upon pounds of candy to be sold at the cookie walk. First United Methodist Church in Cedar Falls donates close to 3,000 cookies. Last year, 76 individual bakers contributed cookies.

Proceeds from the event allow adults with disabilities to participate in recreational activities like field trips, holiday parties, a bowling program and more.

"When we started this, there wasn't much in the way of social events for them," said volunteer Nancy Golinvaux, whose 47-year-old son, Don, is a client of North Star.

The annual Halloween dance, complete with a live band, is a big hit with clients. They look forward to it all year, Fogleman said.

"They are not afraid to dance," Johnson added. "We have no wallflowers at the Halloween dance."

At Saturday's fundraiser, cookies will sell for $6 a pound, and candy will be $8 a pound. Those with furry family members needn't fret. Nitzschke makes Mittens for Kittens, an organic catnip, and North Star clients make homemade dog treats.

"This is a two-legged and a four-legged cookie walk," Nitzschke said.

North Star director Muller lauds the efforts of the cookie walk volunteers, especially those who've hung in there for 25 years.

"Many of the group's original members are gone now, but a core group remains. Most members are now in their 70s and 80s, but I like to think of them as Energizer bunnies -- they keep going and going," she said.

One year, Nitzschke fell and broke her leg and wasn't able to bake. 

"But she was still here on the day of the walk in her wheelchair," Fogleman said, laughing.

The Joint Volunteers are always on the lookout for additional volunteers, as well as more bakers for the holiday cookie walk. To learn more, call Muller at 236-0901, ext. 304, or email jmuller@northstarcs.org.

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