Despite a house fire, 7th grade boy continues baking treats to help children in Africa

Aaron Vanden Heuvel has been baking his Yum Yum Rolls since learning about the need for water wells in the Sudan in 6th grade
Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 3:44 PM CST
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FREEDOM, Wis. (WBAY) - A seventh-grade boy from Freedom is showing the world that compassion for others is unstoppable no matter what curveball life throws your way.

Even after a devastating house fire last week, Aaron Vanden Heuvel’s family is still finding a way to help children in Africa receive the most basic needs.

Thursday, March 3, started like any other. That didn’t last long.

“It was unknown ID on my phone. I picked it up, ’Hello, this is Michele,’” recalls Michele Hepfler.

On the other end came the reply: “Hi, Michele, this is the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. I’m calling to let you know your house is on fire.”

Hepfler raced back to her Freedom farm to find her house engulfed in flames.

Eight days later, the fire’s wrath is still evident and smoke still permeates the air that used to be filled with sweet smells of sugar.

“I want to be a baker, so that’s still one of my goals, one of my dreams,” says 7th grader Aaron Vanden Heuvel.

Vanden Heuvel and his mom, Hepfler, used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen baking what they now call Yum Yum Rolls.

“(It’s) my grandma’s recipe,” says Vanden Heuvel.

But none of the baking they did together was actually for their family.

“It’s to help a charity. Water for South Sudan is what it’s called. It’s for people in South Sudan who need water, and it’s to help raise money for them so they can get a water bottle,” explains Vanden Heuvel.

Last year, then a a sixth-grader, Vanden Heuvel came from school telling his mom about a book he was reading at school called A Long Walk to Water.

“What we take for granted, he just can’t imagine,” says Hepfler. “And he was reading how kids would miss a day of school, and he’s like, that’s just not right! He’s like, Mom, we need to do something about this.”

“At the same time, my grandma passed away, and I wanted to make her caramel rolls to put in her casket, and so I made the Yum Yum rolls, or the caramel rolls at the time, and my mom posted about a picture of me making them, and one of my cousins said they would like to buy some,” explains Vanden Heuvel.

They knew it was a sign and started baking and selling immediately, setting a goal of $15,000 to purchase a water well for those families in South Sudan.

They’d raised half of that by the time the fire erupted last Thursday.

You’d think that would make Vanden Heuvel stop making his Yum Yum Rolls.

That’s just not his style.

“Nope! It’s a just a minor setback. It’s not going to be... not too major in the grand scheme of things. It’s a good thing that we’re doing. So why stop?” he says.

“I’m really proud of him,” says Hepfler, tearing up.

The family is now settling into a new place while their home is rebuilt, but even in trying times they continue their focus to help others.

“We don’t need anything, but the people in South Sudan? They need water. They need something that we use daily, so if anybody would like to support that, please visit Aaron’s direct donation link,” adds Hepfler.

If you’d like to make a donation or buy Yum Yum Rolls to benefit the charity, click here for more details.

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