Plenty of kids set up shop during the summer to hawk lemonade, brownies and other baked goods with the hope of making some extra pocket change for toys or fun activities.
But one girl with a popular cupcake stand in Boise, Idaho, has decided to use her hard-earned cash for a truly meaningful cause — to help the city's homeless.
After graduating from the third grade on June 1, 9-year-old BentLee Martinez started talking to her mom, Stephanie Ford, about what she would do over the summer. Initially, BentLee decided she'd set up a cupcake stand to try to earn enough money to pay for her parents and four siblings to take a family trip to Florida.
"She built that stand almost all by herself," Ford told TODAY Food. "I got the wood, but she constructed and painted it."
Named after her initials and nickname, BentLee set up BAM's Bakery, under the shade of the family's maple tree in the front yard, according to KTVB. With her mom's help, BentLee made a batch of cupcakes to sell the next day.
"I thought it might be a fad, and we'd get rid of the stand soon, but on her very first day, she made $68," Ford said. "I was like what?! Who makes this kind of money? She sold out. Immediately she was so interested in it, so it kept going."
But the mission for the stand changed on June 8, when BentLee's family was driving through downtown Boise on the way home from a fishing trip. Ford noticed a mother who was feeding her children out of a trash can and asked her kids to help her brainstorm how they could help out.
"The kids said, 'let's go to McDonald's and get them some food', so we went and bought a bunch of cheeseburgers," she said. "Then we walked around and the kids fed as many people as they could."
"We saw pregnant women, families and people who were disabled," said Ford. "The kids got to see a full spectrum of what homelessness actually looked like. It's something everyone always talked about and has been sensitive and compassionate about, but it wasn't until then that they knew the true reality of people living on the streets."
The very last people that the family approached was an elderly couple in their 70s who were laying down in an alley. They had lived there for the past two and a half months. Both were very wet and cold from a recent storm. On top of that, the man had a broken hip and the woman had a broken leg.
"The kids were so confused why they couldn't just go to the doctor or just go home," said Ford. "We asked them what we could do and they didn't ask for anything more than a dry blanket. 'If you have a dry blanket that would be great.'"
Ford loaded the kids in the car while they brainstormed how they could help the couple. "They wanted to do everything they could for them and had the idea to go to a store, so off to Target we went," she said. "I let them go to find the things they thought the couple needed most like toiletries, dry foods, blankets, shoes, socks — a plethora of basic necessities."
In was dark by the time the family headed back to give the couple the items they had purchased.
"The kids jumped out of the car and immediately started caring for the couple: changing their blankets, pouring them milks ...," said Ford. "They had no care in the world except taking care of this couple. The kids were so overwhelmed with a mix of emotions. Bentlee and Carson were in tears as they helped. It was one of the most rewarding things I think I've ever witnessed in my entire life."
After, the family piled back in the car to go home. "The minute we got in the car BentLee said, 'mom, I have money and these people don't so all my cupcake money is going to go to the homeless'," said Ford.
The next day, Ford started making calls to try to further help the couple and found them a house within three days. The rest of the family continues to be involved, but BentLee was especially committed to the cause.
Now, always on the hunt for new cupcake flavors, BentLee scours Pinterest daily for ideas. "That results in a trip to the store and cupcake baking until 12 at night," Ford said.
BentLee makes all of her treats from scratch and offers two types every day like sunny day lemonade and mint madness. Her favorite flavor so far has been s'mores, a homemade chocolate cupcake topped with freshly whipped buttercream frosting, graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate.
"She always tries to find a great name and puts on lots of specialty toppings," Ford said.
Although it's all fun and games playing around in the kitchen, BentLee has been very serious about raising as much money as possible to help the homeless since June 8. After meeting so many people in need, BentLee scrapped her Disney World dreams for something she felt was way more important.
"From that minute forward she has never wanted to spend another dime on anything else except the homeless," Ford said. So far, BentLee has raised over $700 this summer. She just kicked off a Facebook fundraiser as well.
"Every time she gets money from her cupcake stand, she comes up with what she can buy for the homeless in downtown Boise, then we load up the car and distribute the items," said Ford. BentLee even cleaned out her room to look for things to give to the homeless.
BentLee's sweet mission has even caught the attention of Boise's mayor, who now wants to meet her. According to Ford, her daughter is "so nervous and so excited."
"She's such a selfless little girl," said Ford. "If anyone could give just a little bit of what that girl gives, our world would be a better place.