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Hazel's cookies: 900 a week x 10 years = loads of TLC and $60,000 for charity

Hazel Akai has been baking 900 cookies almost every week for the past 10 years to raise money for various charities. This Wednesday marks her last office cookie deposit; she
Hazel Akai has been baking 900 cookies almost every week for the past 10 years to raise money for various charities. This Wednesday marks her last office cookie deposit; she's set to retire in a couple weeks after 33 years with PricewaterhouseCoopers.
— image credit: SARAH PAYNE/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

For the past 10 years, Hazel Akai has had a weekly ritual that starts on Sunday night as she washes her collection of plastic containers and readies her suitcase.

Rather than preparing for an exotic trip, however, Akai is assembling supplies to make cookies — a mind-boggling lot of cookies — for her co-workers.

We're talking more than 900 cookies — that's 76 dozen.

And in case you figured Akai must use an industrial kitchen with supersize equipment, you would be wrong.

The Port Coquitlam grandmother pulls it off in her own kitchen, using nothing but a red ceramic bowl, a worn-down, warped wooden spoon, a soup spoon to drop the batter onto the AirBake cookie sheets she swears by, and mixes batch after batch — after batch after batch — by hand.

A mixer would make too much noise and Akai doesn't want to wake up her daughter or her grandson, who's almost two years old.

"A lot of times, I do it late at night," said Akai, a night owl. Besides, she adds in a no-nonsense voice, it only takes five minutes to put a batch together and all that hand-mixing is good exercise, too.

With 10 dozen peanut butter cookies under her belt on Sunday night, Akai heads downtown to start the work week early Monday morning and spends the day compiling documents for PricewaterhouseCoopers corporate income tax clients in a cubicle covered with family photos.

Monday and Tuesday nights are for her famous chocolate chip cookies, and that's when the production line really ramps up.

Out come the red bowl, the trusted wooden spoon (which is more like half a spoon now), the cookie sheets, the flour, sugar and eggs.

Each batch makes about six dozen cookies, and while one batch cooks away in the oven getting perfectly fluffy and ooey-gooey soft, with just the right amount of chocolate chips waiting to melt in your mouth, Akai makes the next batch of batter.

She makes about four or five batches each night, packs them in the plastic containers and stows them carefully in her suitcase, which she wheels on to the West Coast Express every Wednesday morning. (About two years ago, when her grandson was born, Akai scaled back production to every two weeks.)

Akai's co-workers — all 10 floors of them — know that Wednesday is cookie day, and they're waiting.

"Sometimes they're gone by noon," Akai said. "It depends which floor."

The 14th floor, where the associates toil away, is a quick one. "It's a lot of young, growing men and they need their cookie fix," Akai said with a smile.

Come spring, when it's all hands on deck during the busy tax season, there's a steady stream of stressed-out accountants making a dash to the kitchen for a handful of cookies.

Like her mother, who was always handing out freshly baked cake doughnuts to the neighbourhood kids, Akai takes satisfaction in knowing her co-workers are enjoying her treats.

But she also does it to raise money for charities close to her heart after surviving breast cancer 24 years ago. Akai has raised more than $60,000, donating to the CIBC Run for the Cure event, Weekend to End Breast Cancer, Big Bike for Heart and Stroke, the United Way and the Terry Fox Foundation.

(She also bakes 18 dozen cookies each Sunday morning and brings them to Coquitlam Alliance Church, where she attends services, and once a month she helps distribute clothing and personal items to homeless people with the Union Gospel Mission. "It's really rewarding, and makes you thank God you have what you have," Akai said.)

PricewaterhouseCoopers has generously paid for the ingredients for Akai's cookies and last year recognized her charitable efforts with the 2013 BC CEO Communities award. Her co-workers also compiled a YouTube video paying tribute to her cookie-fuelled fundraising legacy.

"It's the simplicity and consistency of Hazel's cookies that has made her fundraising so effective and well loved," said John DeLucchi, PwC's managing partner for the B.C. region. "Hazel has made a truly remarkable contribution to our firm and her dedication to our community will be greatly missed."

After this week, you see, the number-crunchers will have to look elsewhere for their weekly treats. Akai is retiring in a couple of weeks and today (Wednesday) marks her last cookie deposit.

"I'm going to be 68 in December, so I think I should slow down and enjoy life," Akai said.

She plans to use her suitcase for something other than cookies, this time packing for a trip to see her sister in Dawson City, Yukon, followed by a sisters' cross-country road trip in a "hippie van."

And there's a good chance Akai will keep on baking.

Even though she has baked about 24,000 cookies in 10 years, Akai never tires of the sweet little gems.

"I like cookies and sweets," she admits matter-of-factly. "I'm a chocaholic."

spayne@tricitynews.com

 

HAZEL'S COOKIES BY THE NUMBERS

Hazel Akai's co-workers honoured her with a video as part of their annual community awards in 2013; below are the numbers compiled to show what has gone into 10 years of cookies:

• number of cookies baked: 21,888

• pounds of sugar: 13,634

• pounds of flour: 12,488

• pounds of butter: 7,410

• pounds of salt: 74

• pounds of chocolate chips: 22,230

• number of eggs: 26,640

• litres of vanilla extract: 146

 

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