Just in time for Memorial Day, more than 30,000 cookies were gathered, packed and delivered to approximately 2,000 hospitalized, homeless and special needs veterans in the Los Angeles region through the annual Operation Cookie project at the Woman’s Club of South Pasadena.
On May 21, donations of cookies began streaming into the club and around 100 volunteers coordinated the packaging of them throughout the morning of May 22 and then delivered them that afternoon. Each box of cookies contain 15-20 cookies which include a flavor assortment of both purchased and homemade coconut cookies, almond butter, oatmeal, pecan shortbread, Girl Scout cookies, Oreos, merengues and of course, the ever-popular chocolate chip cookies. Sugar free collections were also included. Several organizations donated funds as well to the effort.
This year, customized cookie boxes with both printed and hand-drawn messages of gratitude and support were delivered to veteran’s hospitals throughout the southland, to the Wounded Warriors Battalion at Camp Pendleton, Military Women in Need (MWN), veterans at Pasadena City College and other groups, as well as to homeless veterans.
“It’s just evolved where more and more people have been donating cookies and more and more people want to get involved with helping,” said Beverly Biber, publicity chair for the Woman’s Club.
The project has its origins in World War II in the 1940s when club member Evelyn Kellogg saw a need to support the troops overseas with a confectionary touch, according to Biber. An active member of the club for 50 years, she kept the cookie delivery project going through conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, Croatia, Bosnia and the Gulf War. When the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, occurred and mailing was limited, the operation got put on hold. A few years later the project resumed with an evolved focus: to support and serve veterans in Southern California.
Sally Ehrheart, third vice president and house chair of the Woman’s Club, is one of the couriers of the packages and visits a veteran’s hospital at least once a month with other volunteers. She shared that the cookies and care behind them make a special impression on the veterans.
“They look forward to having the cookies,” said Ehrheart. “They’re really grateful for whatever we do. They say ‘thank you,’ then they leave and they say ‘thank you’ again. So I know that means they’re all really happy with whatever you can do.”
Around 100 volunteers of all ages came out over the course of the two days to support the effort. Navy veteran and South Pasadena resident Dick Lee worked to package a varied assortment of cookies into individual boxes alongside his wife Rikki Lee. Having served two tours of duty as an operations specialist on the USS KD Bailey across Cuba and the Mediterranean from 1962 to 1966 as well as a year in the Navy Reserves, Lee said his career found him practicing wargames and coming across Russian submarines.
“Everybody was in Vietnam, we were chasing submarines,” said Lee.
For him, being a part of Operation Cookie has served as a way to give back and also to connect with other veterans. He also views it as a way to let veterans know they’re a valued and necessary part of the community.
“I was really proud of being in the service and any time I have an opportunity to do something for the community, I try to participate,” said Lee. “When this came up, we volunteered right away and we came down here and all of a sudden, I discover there’s a lot of veterans.”
On her third year of volunteering with the project, South Pasadena resident Robin Da Silva brought plate after plate of cookies to the sorting tables where other volunteers carefully selected ones to add to boxes.
“I love giving back to the community and I like the fact that South Pasadena has a lot of ways that you can give back through volunteering,” said Da Silva. “It’s a good way to meet people within the community and that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Reflecting on all the places the cookies will travel, Biber shared that the communal effort ultimately serves as a value reminder for veterans.
“All the cookies go to a good home,” said Biber.