A cookie drive to remember

With holidays come festivities, and with festivities come many goodies, decorations, treats and such. The one thing that I – and many others I’m assuming – associate with holidays is the abundance of themed-treats that follow. As a lover of food and other sweet treats, it’s the candies and cookies I look for the instant the holidays start rearing their heads.

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December is a month of holidays, and many people celebrate in their own way. For me, the holiday I observe happens to be Christmas.

Christmas was once a time I eagerly waited for a big man donning a red suit to jump down our chimney and discretely leave mysterious packages for me to unravel in the morning with an uncontested zest. That illusion was shattered when I was five years old, when I caught my father snacking on the cookies I left for Saint Nick with a wrapped present in his other hand. I tried hard to believe my dad was on some North Pole Assistance Committee, and that he was merely subbing for Santa because he’d caught a cold or something (you know, the North Pole’s pretty cold,) but reality had already left its mark.

Speaking of cookies, that’s about all I look forward to these days, along with painfully obligatory presents from friends who buy me gift cards because they’re all a little too afraid to admit that my standards are a bit too “fickle.”

Jokes aside, cookies are one of the great ways to celebrate the coming of holidays. They come with deliciously sugary decorations that in some way represent the holiday we’re all eagerly awaiting. Baking Christmas cookies is a tradition many participate in to help bring the holiday spirit to friends and family.

But what about those who don’t have the means to bake or can’t get access to cookies because they just got here to a base overseas away from family, friends and things familiar?

On December 4, 2014, the Officers’ and Civilians’ Spouses Club (OCSC) and Spangdahlem Spouses and Enlisted Members Club (SSEMC) organized a cookie drive, one they called “Spangdahlem Cookie Crunch,” to ensure that Airmen residing in the dorms would have that pleasantry available to them come this holiday.

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Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

Kim Nudi, the OCSC representative for this event from Fairfax, Virginia, and Katie Merry, the SSEMC representative from Modesto, California, not only gave me a sneak peek into “Santa’s cookie workshop,” but gave me an insight into what’s going on and why they were hosting this charitable community event.

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(Merry, left, and Nudi, right, the event coordinators of the cookie drive)

Nudi informed me on what was going on. Here’s what I learned:

The OCSC and SSEMC hosted a cookie drive at the Airman & Family Readiness Center (A&FRC) – which was “kind enough to provide the space”, according to Nudi. They gathered members from both clubs and volunteers from the community to package cookies donated by members of the Spangdahlem community and the local community – to include, but not limited to, spouses, a Girl Scout troop and a philanthropic sorority not from Spangdahlem.

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Festive paper bags, decorated by elementary school and kindergarten children from the Spangdahlem and Bitburg Elementary School as well as the Spangdahlem School Age Program (who had a hand in baking a lot of cookies themselves), housed the delicious baked treats.

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

OSCS and SSEMC also went ahead and purchased movie vouchers from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (who, also, donated $2 snack bar coupons) so that Airmen can enjoy treats and a free movie with cheaper concessions.

Completing the process, the cookie bags were placed in bins where the First Sergeants’ Group picked them up and delivered the goods to their troops’ respective dorms.

Enthralled by the delicate procedure, planning and the sweet smell of cookies, I had to answer one question that kept tickling the back of my mind the moment I heard this drive was going on:

Why were they going to such lengths to do this for us? For me?

I had to know.

I sat down with Nudi and Merry and began grilling them about their motives behind this delicious “Cookie Crunch.”

“What we wanted to do this year was have a base-wide cookie drive so that everyone is involved in helping our unaccompanied Airmen feel welcome and feel some holiday cheer at this time when they are away from their families,” Nudi said. “The response has been wonderful because I think people really enjoy doing this. It’s been really wonderful to see all of the communities come together to support our Airmen.”

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies
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I had to know why Nudi and Merry decided to take charge of this “Cookie Crunch” with nearly 800 dozen cookies baked and donated from members of Spangdahlem. It turned out the reason be more personal than I first thought.

“Personally, I was a single Airmen in the dorms once, myself, so I know exactly how it feels to feel alone when you don’t have your family around or being new to the base and not having friends to spend the holidays with,” Merry said. “When I heard about this drive, I thought it was a great idea and a special reminder to every Airmen that they are not here by themselves and that they are remembered. The holiday times they are not alone, even if they feel like it.”

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“It gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of that energy to help out this community,” Nudi said. “It’s a great way to give back, and I take the opportunity of not working to find ways to give back. It’s our way of saying thank you and showing our appreciation for them.”

If holiday spirit had a smell, it would smell like the cookies Nudi and Merry packed into the bags we received that afternoon.

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies
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Volunteers who associated with neither club even extended their hand to help in this act of generosity.

Melissa Higgins, one of the volunteers not affiliated with either of the clubs, and native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gave me her two cents on why she participated.

“We love our Airmen,” Higgins said. “We appreciate all that they do for us, so we’d like to show our appreciation for them.”

It’s just cookies, I hear you think, and everyone gets cookies during the festivities.

This is true, I respond back telepathically – but more importantly, on this blog – they may just be cookies, but it wasn’t just cookies and free movie passes that made it to the dormitory Airmen that afternoon; it was an extension of camaraderie and a token of appreciation from a group of families given to one big family – a big Air Force family.

I’m hoping that as Sabers, both accompanied and unaccompanied, spend the holidays and munch on these delicious cookies, we all stop to think what the holidays truly mean and what they represent.

It’s not about shiny, wrapped packages. It’s not about a plate of warm cookies and a tall glass of milk. It’s not about a big liar dressed in a red suit breaking and entering into people’s homes to steal treats and leave presents. Nor is it about obligatory gifts and awkward moments as you watch the recipient’s smile turn upside down when they realize all you could afford to give them for Christmas was a $10 gift card from a generic retail store.

It’s about making sure people around you – close or through peripheral association – know that, as Airmen serving on the same installation, we’re all one big family, looking out for each other and letting each other know that we are not alone. We are remembered.

Happy holidays, Saber Nation.

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