Ely Rooney watched in fear and disbelief last month as Hurricane Harvey inundated south Texas with more than four feet of rain, flooding tens of thousands of homes and forcing more than 30,000 residents into area storm shelters. As the waters continued to rise, Ely's focus was on the safety of her parents as well as her three sisters and their families, who all live in the Houston area.
Born and raised in the Houston suburb of Katy, Texas, Ely has lived in Savannah for the past three years with husband Brian and their four children. Both her parents are originally from Mexico and Spanish was always the primary language in their home. Like many other Mexican-American Catholics, Ely grew up celebrating and venerating the Feast Day of Our Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th.
“My parents and my aunt have been picked up by the Texas National Guard,” Ely wrote in a Facebook post during the downpour. “Their house is completely surrounded by water. One sister and her family live in downtown Houston and are surrounded by water as well. My other two sisters escaped major damage.”
Once she learned her family was safe, Ely decided to use her skills as a baker to raise money in support of the recovery efforts. Two and a half years ago, she started De Colores Cookies y Mas Cottage Bakery from her home on Savannah's Southside where she specializes in custom, hand-painted cookies and other baked goodies for events like birthdays, bridal showers, and weddings. She sells her one-of-a-kind treats locally and online through Etsy, a popular online retailer specializing in hand-crafted products and also through her new website– www.decolorescookies.com
For her project, Ely decided to bake oversized cookies shaped like the state of Texas and it’s iconic longhorn cattle. She then iced and meticulously decorated each cookie by hand, pricing them at $36 per dozen with all proceeds going to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Samaritan's Purse and other organizations dedicated to helping hurricane victims.
“It was the absolute least I could do for my fellow Houstonians and I was thrilled that folks responded so well to my Cookies for Texas box,” Ely said. “I told my husband that working around the clock, baking and decorating at all hours of the night really makes me feel like I am walking beside my fellow Texans at home who are also working around the clock to help those in need. I do this with much love & I'm touched by everyone's generosity and prayers.”
At last count, 'Cookies for Texas' had raised over $1300 for hurricane relief and Ely expressed her thanks for all the people who pitched in to make the project a success, including David Clark, manager of the Montgomery Crossroads Sam’s Club, who donated a shopping cart filled with flour, sugar, eggs, butter and milk.
“My heart was heavy seeing my hometown under water, friends stranded, homes destroyed but if I know Texans, this will not bring them down,” she said. “At the same time, watching from this side, it's been heartwarming to see everyone come together– our neighbors in Louisiana and their Cajun Navy, the National Guard and civilians alike united in helping everyone work through this devastation. I've never been prouder to be from the great state of Texas.”
After studying culinary arts and earning her Restaurant and Hotel Management degree from the Art Institute of Houston, Ely worked as a customer service director, then as an Executive Sous-Chef before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She opened shop on her bake shop on March 4, 2015.
“At first, I catered mostly to my friends and family but once I started getting the attention of people wanting cookies for their weddings or for corporate events, it became clear that sleep would be in my very distant future,” she said. “I work with fresh dough and I like my cookies to be as fresh as possible so when an order would roll in for 200-300 cookies, it was a 3 day process of making dough and icing, constantly changing out the water to paint. Rolling, cutting, baking and decorating while trying to take mini breaks to pick up the kids from school and getting them snacks to making dinner and taking mini naps to get me by.”
Ely admits it’s not always easy to balance her time between family and business.
“It can be challenging to carve out family time while running a business but that's only when I have a big event coming up,” she said. “And I run my business from home so I am ALWAYS within reach when my children need me. My eldest son is 12 and a very gifted designer and animator. He helps out a ton with his siblings and I really could not do much without him when his dad is at work. My middle son and daughter are 5 and 4 years old and their baby brother, Mateo, is just nine-months-old. They all love to create as well. Sometimes I bring out the big picnic blanket and set up shop for them in the bakery with canvases, paint and super loud music. While I paint on my cookies, they all paint as well and it's kind of the coolest thing ever.”
The Rooney family is a great example of why the United States is known as the world’s melting pot. Ely’s husband, Brian, is originally from Ireland and is an anatomy and physiology lecturer at Armstrong State University.
“Brian was finishing up his PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Texas in Galveston and I was working in catering at the time we met,” Ely said. “I found Brian's profile on a friend’s Myspace "list" and decided to reach out. I knew early on that he was the man I was going to marry. Brian provides a MAJOR support system for me when I host pop up shops and attend festivals to sell my products. Plus, Irish people are just like Mexicans...the majority of us are Catholic, we have big families and we like to have a good time. It was an easy fit!”
In addition to De Colores Cookies, Ely is also busy promoting a new neighborhood farmers market.
“The South Island's Farmers Market will be opening on Thursday, October 12th,” Ely said. “It will be held at the Higher Ground Baptist Church on Whitefield Avenue near Truman Parkway. It’s meant to be an Artisan and Farmer's Market and it's in a great location near my kid’s school (St. James Catholic). It will be open at fantastic hours for parents coming out of the school run or looking to kill time before going home. It really is an exciting new venture in that part of Savannah and I am so happy to be a part of it!”
This month Ely will be launching a GoFund me campaign to help her acquire a vintage camper she plans to convert into a mobile bakery stand.
For more information about Ely Rooney and her bake shop, please visit Www.decolorescookies.com or facebook.com/decolorescookies.