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This dessert has benefits: Fundraiser fights breast cancer with desserts

Brian Jenkins, owner and chef at Sintra in Braintree, is participating in the Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer fundraiser for the fifth year. Carol Brownman Sneider, whose mother died of breast cancer, started the Boston Bakes fundraiser nine years ago. Photo by Lisa Bul

Carol Brownman Sneider shared only 16 years with her mother, but she buys sweets in her memory every Mother’s Day.

So do thousands of other people, thanks to the fundraiser Sneider started nine years ago to tackle the breast cancer that killed her 44-year-old mother, Eva Brownman.

When Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer takes place May 5-11, more than 160 restaurants and bakeries will sell a special dessert and donate all the proceeds to breast cancer research and trials at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“Nearly everyone has an Eva Brownman in their life or knows someone who does,” said Sneider, 51, of Needham, who has raised more than $200,000 since 2000 and expects another $40,000 to $50,000 this year.

Since it started with 42 restaurants in Boston and its closest suburbs, Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer has grown fourfold, with 40 new outlets added this year alone. Now, participants are in all parts of the state, including the South Shore. For the first time, you can buy a dessert while grocery shopping, since Roche Brothers and Sudbury Farms joined. Also new, you can get a dessert delivered to your home through the online cookie bakery Geoff & Drews.

“I was so ecstatic the first year and thought I had hit the jackpot,” said Sneider, who formerly operated hotels. “I’m in awe that the response has been so incredible. It’s a great feeling and sense of accomplishment.”

Sneider came up with the concept of a weeklong bake sale when she was looking for a new way to raise money for the Eva Brownman Fund, which she started with her sister in 1990. Until then, the fund had held single-day events like a fashion show or comedy night.

An early May bake sale was appealing because Mother’s Day seemed like a good time to honor her mother and other women and because many people are fond of bake sales.

“I wanted something that would fit into everyone’s life,” she said. “People already are eating out and everyone loves desserts. And it was through my mother that I started to cook and bake.”

Also, Sneider did not want to place stressful demands on restaurants.

“I wanted to make it easy for restaurants, who are so frequently asked to do things for the community,” she said. “And I like that this showcases the pastry chefs, who often are a sort of hidden treasure.”

The restaurants run the gamut, from family-oriented to upscale, selling desserts for $6 to $10. If the fundraiser reaches its goal of about $40,000, more than 4,000 desserts will have been sold.

Brian Jenkins, owner and chef at Sintra in Braintree, appreciates the simplicity of Boston Bakes. Participating for the fifth year, Jenkins will sell his restaurant’s most popular dessert - vanilla bread pudding with creme anglaise and vanilla bean ice cream for $6.

When diners arrive, they’ll see a Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer sign at the hostess stand. In the menu, the dessert will be highlighted and wait staff will remind diners of the offering.

“The great part is that she gives us a kit and makes it very convenient,” Jenkins said. “During that week, we’ll sell twice as many as we usually do.”

Jenkins became committed to the fundraiser through a pastry chef who helped him develop the desserts for his restaurant.

“Her mom had gone through the ordeal, and she was a friend of mine, so I did it for her,” Jenkins said.

Other restaurant owners joined in response to Sneider’s promotional efforts.

“When someone speaks from the heart, people are receptive,” said Sneider, whose grandmother, aunt and cousin also have had breast cancer. “But you have to be patient because it can take numerous contacts and calls to get a yes.”

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the United States, after skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer. About 182,460 women will be diagnosed and about 40,480 women will die this year. Women have about a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer.

However, death rates are going down, with about two-and-a-half million survivors in the United States.

“As more women detect breast cancer early and treatments continue to improve, the odds of surviving a diagnosis of breast cancer continue to improve, too,” said Dr. Eric Winer, director of the Breast Oncology Center at Dana-Farber. “The vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 will go on to lead long and healthy lives.”

Aside from knowing the money will further the search for a cure and new treatments, Sneider is fulfilled by the personal relationships she has developed with chefs and restaurant owners.

“I’ve met some incredible people,” she said. “That’s one of the best gifts.”

Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer is a small fundraiser compared to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, May 17-18, and the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk, Aug. 15-17. But Sneider said these events complement each other.

“When there is a cure, we won’t be needed,” she said.

Reach Jody Feinberg@jfeinberg@ledger.com.