It’s that time of year when we all begin to pull out our favorite cookie recipes for the holidays. And, if you’re like me, you feel extremely pleased with yourself after baking several dozen cookies for the family. Well, I recently learned that I had no idea what real cookie cooking was all about!.
Let me introduce you to Jeanette Cram, better known as the “Cookie Lady” and the founder of Treat the Troops, a 501 (c)(3) charity. I had the privilege of visiting her and 15 of her Crumbs (the volunteers who support organization) at Jeanette’s home in Hilton Head just prior to Thanksgiving last year. They had just finished packing 206 boxes to go to our troops (181 boxes of 8 doz. cookies each and 25 boxes of candy), and it had only taken them about three hours. Of course, the group had spent time together the previous Monday to prepare the boxes for packing which made the day’s work go faster. The boxes were stacked in Jeanette’s garage and just waiting for the postal service to pick them up.
The Christmas shipment is the largest of the year, but the group ships cookies to our troops 11 months of the year. And let’s not forget the ancillary groups who support the total effort. For example, the Crumbs in the Sun City and Long Cove neighborhoods bake cookies in their own home and deliver them to the team leader who deliver them to the Cookie Lady’s home for packing/shipping. Treat the Troops is truly a collaborative network of volunteers and now operates in many of the states within the United States. As of this date, Treat the Troops sent 633,313 cookies in 2015 and have now sent 4.7 million cookies over all their years of operation!
When I arrived early that Wednesday afternoon they were just sitting down to enjoy some refreshments in Jeanette’s kitchen. It was from Jeanette and the other ladies that I learned about how Treat the Troops got started and how it grew to what it is today.
On Sept. 11, 1990, Jeanette heard Pres. H. W. Bush read a letter during a1990 televised address from a Gulf War soldier. He was asking his mother to send him cookies and letters. That was all it took to give Jeanette the idea to start sending our soldiers a box of cookies with a note of thanks and her husband, Jack, supported her all the way. In the beginning, the boxes were addressed to “Any Soldier”, whereas after 1996 they started being addressed to a specific soldier. The soldier or his or her loved ones send the requests to the Cookie Lady via email or USPS. And another significant difference is the postal rate…in the beginning, it cost about $3.50 to mail a box of cookies and the rate today is close to $16.00 per box. While we were visiting around the kitchen table, I also got to hear some other very interesting stories such as the “behind the scenes” happenings when Jeanette appeared on The Martha Stewart Show and about her visit to the White House to be honored by Pres. George Bush.
It’s important to note, however, that the mission of Treat the Troops has remained the same throughout the years. That mission is “to let deployed American military persons know that people at home are remembering them.” Jeanette showed me the many flags, insignias, and other military momentos she has received from soldiers that she proudly displays in her family room. Among those items were 20 very large binders of “thank you” letters and notes received from soldiers over the years. As I perused one of the binders, I found one handwritten note written by a soldier in 2013 that seems to capture why Jeanette says she loves doing this work. The PFC wrote “It’s because of people such as yourself that makes getting up every day and struggling with our hardships much easier.” As of this writing, we the United States, have 9800 troops on Afghanistan and many more in Iraq.
Toward the end of our visit, I asked Jeanette how she was able to handle all the work plus having to deal with life’s other demands and some previous health issues. It is evident Jeanette is a tireless leader and takes every occasion to give all the credit for the Treat the Troop accomplishments to the Crumbs. My final question to Jeanette was what advice she would have for those you would like to become more involved in helping local charities within their communities. After a few moments’ reflection she said, “Find something you have a passion for, and then just get off your behind and do it.”
It was a wonderful visit with the amazing “Cookie Lady” and her other amazing friends, the Crumbs. Friends of Callawassie Island, Inc. (FOCI) is happy to support Treat the Troops and all the good work they do year after year. More information can be found online at Treat the Troops, or in Jeanette’s book “Soldier, Cookies & the Crumbs: The Story of Treat the Troops.”
Submitted by Kathy H. Jones, FOCI Board Member