CHICAGO — Paula Conrad is rarely without a Misericordia cookie in her purse. After all, she might bump into a celebrity.
Conrad has gotten Tom Hanks, Wayne Gretzky, Stephen Colbert and — the pièce de résistance — Snoop Dogg, among nearly 100 others, to take photos with Misericordia's cookies.
"We're fans!" declares the Facebook page where Conrad posts the photos.
"I just thought maybe we'll get some local politicians, which would be great," Conrad said. "And then [we] just started seeing more nationally known people."
Misericordia opened the Hearts and Flour Bakery in 1990. About 60 people with Down syndrome work at the bakery, scooping the dough, baking the cookies and brownies or packaging the treats for sale, Conrad said.
Hearts and Flour Bakery made 750,000 cookies last year and plans to produce 1 million in 2016, Conrad said. They can be bought in person at Misericordia, 6300 N. Ridge Ave., or purchased online.
Conrad, a volunteer spokeswoman for Misericordia, highlights the bakery's work on Facebook. It was while working on the Facebook page that she came up with the idea of having celebrities, politicians and sports stars pose with the bakery's cookies.
The first photo, taken in 2009, featured Sen. Dick Durbin. More recently, Cubs manager Joe Maddon and the Stanley Cup (yes, the trophy) have posed with a Misericordia cookie. This weekend, Conrad snapped up eight current and former Cubs players.
Svengoolie (c.), Snoop Dogg (top l.) and Cubs manager Joe Maddon (top r.) are among the big names who have posed for photos with Misericordia cookies. [Facebook/Misericordia]
Conrad meets the celebrities at events, talks about Misericordia and gets her photo. Once, unable to resist, she stepped into a picture with Tom Hanks, astronaut Jim Lovell and a heart-shaped cookie with pink frosting; another time, she asked David Koechner (Champ Kind from "Anchorman") for a photo but warned him not to eat the cookie — it had been in her purse for a month.
"He just started cracking up and said, 'I don't care, I'm eating this cookie. This cookie is going into my belly right now,'" Conrad said. Koechner refused to break eye contact with her as he chewed.
And Conrad was talking to Stephen Colbert about Misericordia when he stopped her and said, "I know Misericordia from going to Northwestern and living in Chicago. I love it. Give me that cookie."
Brownies made at the Hearts and Flour Bakery at Misericordia, 6300 N. Ridge Ave. [Misericordia/Facebook]
Always ready, Conrad sometimes has a single cookie (usually chocolate chip) in her purse for months at a time, she said, though she tries to change them out once a week.
"People have told me I should shellac a cookie so I just have it," Conrad said. But she orders cookies "very, very often, so I usually have a fresh supply."
Conrad's goal is get Pope Francis (her "No. 1") and Warren Buffett to take photos with the cookies — Francis to honor Misericordia's religious roots and Buffett in the hopes he might make a contribution to the facility.
"Those two guys — I shouldn't refer to the pope as a guy — those two would be my top ones to get," Conrad said.
Chicago Cubs pose with a Misericordia cookie at the 2016 Cubs Convention. They are, clockwise from top l., Jason Heyward, Joe Maddon, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Ryne Sandberg, Addison Russell, Kerry Wood, John Lackey, Anthony Rizzo. (Photos by Paula Conrad)
Misericordia employs about 60 people with Down syndrome in its bakery and packaging plant.
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