Stories of Our Neighbors: She’s Saving The World, One Cookie At A Time

Laura Magone on Monongahela’s Guinness record-breaking cookie table, the huge hearts of bakers and how the tiniest sweetness matters so much.

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Growing up as the granddaughter of four Italian immigrants in Pittsburgh’s Monongahela Valley, Laura Magone’s early years were marked with huge family gatherings, big weddings, and — of course — cookies. 

“In Pittsburgh, people take cookie tables for granted,” Magone, 62, says. “I’ve discovered not everyone has these traditions. Not everyone cares about cookies.” 

The pillowed pacing of Magone’s voice — the way she listens as if words were oxygen — echoes another of Pittsburgh’s huge hearts: Fred Rogers. Like Mister Rogers, Magone has devoted her life to kindness; in Magone’s case, saving the world one cookie, or thousands of cookies, at a time.

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As founder of the Facebook group “The Wedding Cookie Table Community,” which boasts more than 107,000 members from all over the U.S. and beyond, Magone orchestrated the world’s biggest cookie table to celebrate the 250th anniversary of her hometown, Monongahela, on Aug. 11, 2019.

“Nobody really knows the historical, geographical footprint of the cookie table,” Magone says. “The folks in Youngstown, Ohio, believe they had the first cookie table. I don’t want to dispute it, Youngstown, but there’s not a lot of proof. I figured, if nobody can prove where the first cookie table was, I was going to do everything I could to benefit my hometown.”

After entering the Guinness record books, Magone’s group of cookie conspirators went on to create cookie tables for families of the victims of Flight 93, for first responders of the Tree of Life tragedy, and, most recently, for families, first responders and others affected by the horrific school shooting at Uvalde, Texas. 

“Cookies remind us of innocence,” Magone says. “When terrible things happen, it’s normal to feel paralyzed. What can we possibly do? But a cookie — it’s so simple. It can mean so much.”

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I was weaned on pizzelle and biscotti. By the time I was in high school, Ringgold High, I was baking cookies to deliver to friends and relatives. The cookbook I used was the Cooky Cookbook. That was how they spelled cookie back then.

I graduated from Duquesne University in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in business, when the steel mills were collapsing. Scary times. I was lucky. One of my professors recommended me for a job at the university, where I went on to get an MBA.

I’m more creative than business, though — always taking pictures. One day, I was taking someone’s wedding pictures. I never considered myself a wedding photographer, but if somebody asked, I would take pictures for them. So I was photographing a wedding, waiting for the bridal party to show up, and I had a moment with their cookie table. Instead of being someone who baked and brought the cookies, I was a spectator. For the first time, I appreciated the love that went into creating that table.

I decided to make a documentary. But there were not a lot of pictures of cookie tables — they were so ubiquitous. People didn’t think they were anything special. So I started a Facebook page in 2015. I asked people, “Can I come and photograph your cookie table?” I got so busy with the Facebook page I put my documentary on the backburner.

The official [world record] count was 88,425 cookies. But we had many more than that. Guinness never heard of a cookie table. They insisted everybody list every ingredient in their cookie. If somebody didn’t properly list ingredients, their cookies got disqualified. Heartbreaking.

Guinness sent one woman from Philadelphia — the adjudicator. She couldn’t count all these cookies herself, so we came up with 25 local people Guinness could deputize. These cookie deputies took an oath. They vowed to be honest in their cookie counts.

Our tradition, the cookie-table tradition, is steeped in generosity and love. We’re always looking for people we can bake for and maybe help a little. After Tree of Life, we wanted to do something. We did a cookie table for the police who had to deal with that tragedy.


Horror is the right word.

We’d never done a table long distance. But one of our members, Judi Coulter-Salazar, was in San Antonio. She drove to Uvalde to see if the community might be receptive. She came back and said, “Yes. It’s doable. They would love this.”

By the time we could plan anything, the cameras would have left. After the cameras leave, after people stop showing up. That’s when people feel forgotten.

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The largest cookie table [Judy had] done was for her daughter’s wedding, 30 people. We were asking her to do one for Uvalde families and loved ones — 750 people — then another at a hospital — 530 people. Then we asked her to make deliveries to 20 groups all over town, plus the casket maker in San Antonio.

Uvalde never had a cookie table before. I wanted to be there in person, but because of COVID, I couldn’t. It was better, because this was their event, the people of Uvalde. It was so emotional. I didn’t change my clothes that whole weekend because I was on the phone. Every time the folks in Uvalde saw something they wanted us in Pittsburgh to experience, they would get us on FaceTime. They wanted to know, who are these people in Pittsburgh and why would we want to do this?

One woman, Evangelina Salazar, had never seen Pittsburgh cookies. We asked her what her favorite cookie was and she related it to her heritage. She said, “The taquitos!” Lady locks! Our group packed up as many lady locks as we could and sent her home with them.

In Pittsburgh, whenever there’s a death or suffering, we bring food. In this world, when horrible things happen, it’s easy to get paralyzed and think, what could I possibly do?

But sometimes, the smallest things matter. A cookie. That tiny sweetness. That reminder of childhood. That reminder of what it means to be alive.

Lori Jakiela recently published a new poetry collection, “How Do You Like it Now, Gentlemen?” and has written several other books.
She lives in Trafford and directs the Creative and Professional Writing Program at Pitt-Greensburg. For more, visit:

Categories: Stories of Our Neighbors