- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) - It starts in the carport - a sweet, nose-tickling breeze that becomes a warmly spiced wall when you open the door to the North Fort Myers mobile home and step into your Uncle Charlie’s kitchen.

You don’t have an Uncle Charlie?

Oh, yes you do, if Charles Kellenberger has anything to say about it.

Not only that, your Uncle Charlie loves you. For real. This warm gingersnap? He made it just for you (and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll take it).

Beyond the fact that this 73-year-old retiree’s cookies are from-scratch excellent, this man’s prayers are stirred right into each one - he promises.

For the last decade, Kellenberger’s been on a mission to sweeten the world, one cookie at a time. He recently passed the 500,000 mark.

“It’s love,” he says. “It’s my expression of love in this community.”

It started in 2004. Overcome with gratitude at escaping Hurricane Charley with just $100 in damage, Kellenberger, who’d owned a chain of natural food stores up North, started looking for ways to help.

“Soon as my electric came back, I started baking cookies,” he says. He took them to hard-hit Pine Island, where he and his wife Ingrid volunteered, and handed them out to victims and first responders.

“I didn’t even have a mixer - I was doing everything by hand with a wooden spoon and a stainless steel bowl,” he says. But once he started seeing the smiles, Kellenberger was hooked.

Soon, he’d expanded his reach to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, shelters, soup kitchens - anywhere he thought people could use something sweet.

Neighbor and self-described admirer Doreen King wishes she could follow in Kellenberger’s footsteps. “He’s just a great man, a great friend and very, very helpful to so many people.”

She’s reluctant to choose a favorite, though if pressed, will say it’s his soft chocolate chip cookies, one of more than 100 varieties in his repertoire, all of which he bakes from his well-worn wheelchair.

What Kellenberger’s been through medically is longer than any of his ingredient lists. Congestive heart failure, quadruple bypass, leg amputation and stage 4 prostate cancer are just the highlights.

But has that slowed him down? Ha. Cue the jokes: “Hey, I’m one guy who can take my leg off and put my foot in my mouth,” he says, “You know where I put my prosthetic before I go to sleep? At the foot of the bed. And when I travel? It goes in a footlocker. My wife had breast cancer and had a mastectomy, so I said, ‘Honey, when we can afford it, we’re going to Kentucky Fried - you can order a breast; I’ll order a leg.’ “

The larger point is that he’s a whole person. “I’m just missing a few parts,” he says. “If there’s somebody out there in a wheelchair who says ‘Woe is me,’ I want to be an example for that person. Everybody has a purpose in life. This is mine. It’s all I’ve got - maybe I can’t get out and run around, but I can sit in my chair and make cookies.

“When I go out that door,” he says, gesturing down his trailer’s narrow hallway, “I go out with a smile to try to cheer somebody up.”

So far, he estimates he’s spent about $8,000 on the effort, which leaves things stretched pretty thin, he admits.

Once upon a time, Kellenberger had a tidy nest egg - about a quarter of a million dollars, but after complicated heart surgery and multiple leg amputations, the bills had mounted to - you guessed it - just about a quarter of a million, he says with a shrug and a smile. “But like my Amish father always said, ‘You owe someone, you pay them and God’ll take care of the rest.”

Of course, the Lord helps those who help themselves, so Kellenberger started picking up cans to recycle for cash to buy ingredients. Sometimes friends and neighbors help out.

“I came home from Bible study the other night and there were two bags of flour waiting for me on the steps,” he says. “If people try to give me money or checks, I send them to Ingrid. I tell them, ‘The Lord only lets me handle cookie dough - not the real thing.’ “

But Kellenberger is confident the Lord will provide. He’s aware that wearing his faith on his sleeve may put some people off, but that doesn’t stop him.

“I know it’s not politically correct, but I know I’m doing what God wants me to do,” he says. “It comes down to loving your neighbor, which is anybody you pass. It’s not kind of love from Hollywood, but it’s real and the world needs that.

“I’ll look anybody in the eye and say, ‘I love you,’ and I’ll mean it,” he says. And then he’ll hand them a cookie.

___

Information from: The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press, https://www.news-press.com

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