JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - One family went out for lunch Tuesday and instead received the surprise of their lives.
The Malone family from Corning walked into Panera Bread in Jonesboro where they were met by family, friends, and representatives from both Panera Bread and Baking Memories 4 Kids.
There, they were told the entire family will soon be headed to Florida for the trip of a lifetime.
Baking Memories 4 Kids is a nonprofit organization that started selling cookies to raise money for trips for children with life-threatening or terminal illnesses.
Founder of Baking Memories 4 Kids, Frank Squeo, said he started the organization after a life-changing experience he went through himself.
"I had advanced three testicular cancer eleven years ago," Squeo said. "If it wasn't for a lot of little miracles lining up, I would not be here today. So, I decided everything in life happens for a reason. When you're older and you get cancer it's one thing, but when it's a child and when it's your child giving that family a week to forget about treatments and to forget about prognosis and to forget about needles and everything else. A trip to Disney World would create memories that would last a lifetime. In a lot of cases the children do not have a lifetime."
Squeo said they started with cookie sales, but ended up partnering with Panera Bread locations.
"So, what we started doing, is we started making cookies and selling them, then we formed a relationship with Panera," Squeo said. "A lot of the Panera restaurants in Memphis and Jonesboro ask their customers if they can round up. It's pennies, ten cents, twenty cents, we put all that money together and then we hear from the local community. And we hear their stories and they ask if they can go and we send every single family that has come to us,we send them on a life-changing trip."
Carrie Malone is the mother of three children and her two-year-old son, Jayce, suffers from a form of terminal muscular dystrophy.
"Jayce is an amazing two-year-old," Squeo said. "His mom adopted him at birth and he is so loved by his family. Not too long ago they realized something wasn't right. He has Metachromatic Leukodystophy, or MLD. It's a form of muscular dystrophy and it is a terminal disease that the children do not live past the age of five in most cases. So, Jayce is two years old and he's starting to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Normally, our cut off for the foundation is three years to eighteen years of age. But we were able to get an acceptation because he is at a point the sooner he can go the better."
When Malone learned she and her family had been nominated and then chosen, she was shocked and grateful.
"It's something that as a single mom I'd never be able to do," Malone said. "To realize we're going to get a week of memories that will last forever is just amazing."
Malone said Jayce is the only boy in a family full of women that adore him.
"He's very special," Malone said. "He's the only boy and as a single mom, he rules the house because he's the man of the house and he knows it. Probably because of his sickness we tend to pet him a little bit and so he gets about whatever he wants around the house. I adopted him. Got him from the hospital and at that time I didn't know that anything was wrong, but I would do it all over again. He's just a special little boy. As you can tell he's loved by a lot of people."
Malone also has two daughters, Annabeth and Chloe, who are also adopted.
Malone said the one thing she was looking forward to spending an entire week with her family.
"As a working mom it's hard," Malone said. "You work, and you come home and there's so many other things to do. And just getting to spend an entire week of just relaxing and enjoying family time and making memories. Just seeing the excitement on their faces when they see Mickey and Minnie for real."
Squeo said helping families like the Malones is what it's all about.
"It's an amazing feeling to know why you were born and your destiny," Squeo said. "I was born to get something that brought me to the brink of my life to help me realize what's important in life. What we're doing and what these customers are doing by saying yes to the roundup program and helping us out. It may be pennies, but the value is priceless. In two, three, or ten years when they could have afforded it, that child might no longer be with them. I'm blessed to be standing here in Jonesboro to have the relationship with these amazing people at Panera. And thank everybody in the community for giving us all that change so we can then give these trips away."
The family is headed to Florida in May and they'll get to visit all the theme parks while they're there.
Representatives with Panera Bread also presented Squeo with a check for $145,000 while they were surprising the Malone family.
Last year, Baking Memories 4 Kids provided trips to 46 families.
The Malone family makes their 11th family so far in 2018.
Squeo said he believes they'll announce as many as another 30 families this fall.
You can help by agreeing to "round up" the cost of their meal when they visit Panera Bread or you can also learn more about the organization and other ways to contribute by clicking here.