On March 26, shades of purple were visible across the globe, as participants took part in Purple Day - the international grassroots effort created to raise awareness of epilepsy.

Mays Landing native Caitlin Kaspar, 22, donned purple and has been encouraging her friends and family to do the same for years. But in 2013 - after watching her younger sister, Ashlee, 19, struggle with the neurological disorder since the age of 2 - she knew she had to do more.

"This year, I was actually taking a big step forward," the Richard Stockton College student said.

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In February, Kaspar became a South Jersey Ambassador of Purple Day, giving her the opportunity to work with the Anita Kaufmann Foundation, the global sponsor for the initiative to spread the word.

Her first major endeavor may be the sweetest one to date.

Kaspar contacted local bakeries, asking if they would participate in The Great Purple Cupcake Project and lend their cupcake making skills for the cause. A simple drop of purple food dye to their butter cream, a sign in their window alerting patrons and a small donation is all she pitched.

During the week of March 26, the business would donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the purple-themed items to the Anita Kaufmann Foundation.

Chris Groome, owner and operator of Brownies Squared in Mays Landing, was happy to bake for a good cause.

A $2 vanilla cupcake with purple butter cream - a simple approach to appeal to all - and the more daring $3.50 jumbo purple velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing and a purple coconut topping were on his menu March 24-30.

"We make cupcakes anyway," Groome said, "so it's not like we have to make anything completely different from what we normally have."

The baker has no personal connection to epilepsy but was willing to help out a neighbor, mentioning the possibility of making a tradition out of it.

"We're happy to participate again next year," he said. "It's easy for us."

By Friday evening, the bakery sold about five dozen purple cupcakes, Groome said.

Kaspar said she knows it will be a long road ahead of her, but said her lifelong goal is to create a worldwide community of supporters of the effort to research and defeat epilepsy, the disorder that affects her sister and more than 3 million others in the United States.

Kaspar plans to earn a master's degree in nonprofit management or leadership in order to sustain this community.

And this year, her older sister, Melanie, 39, received the unfortunate diagnosis that she had breast cancer, sparking an even greater desire for Kaspar to make a change.

"I realized how much (Melanie) was supported in a community throughout the United States," Kaspar said. "You know pink means breast cancer. … If you see purple you have no idea what that means, what that ribbon stands for."

Kaspar witnessed a speedy process for Melanie between treatments and immediate outreach, and she knows it will take years before people are comparably educated on epilepsy, which affects more people than does breast cancer, she said.

For now, Kaspar will continue spreading the word and work to make purple just as prevalent as pink - even if it means buying a few extra cupcakes along the way.

"I know it may never help my sister," she said, "but if it can help others like her, than I know I made some sort of difference."

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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