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Treat the Troops wraps up busy year

POSTED: November 24, 2013 12:30 a.m.
Crystal Ledford/

Stacie Wofford boxes up homemade cookies during packaging event for Treat the Troops-Southern Style on Thursday night.

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After less than two years of packaging home-baked cookies for U.S. soldiers and sailors serving overseas, Linda Jones and her small army of volunteers have the process running almost like a military operation.

Dozens of volunteers gathered again Thursday night at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143 for another packing effort.

Long tables were covered with thousands of cookies, all compartmentalized into groups of a dozen each. Some were wrapped in ordinary zip-top baggies, while most were contained in colorful, Christmas-themed cellophane.

After a couple of announcements from Jones, who began Treat the Troops-Southern Style last April as a spinoff of the national Treat the Troops nonprofit, everyone in the room snapped into action.

With nearly assembly-line precision, volunteers made their way to one side of the room, each picking up a postal service cardboard box and then moved along the tables.

Each volunteer filled their box with about 10 dozen cookies, careful to grab different types so the troops would receive a wide variety.  

The boxes then moved to other tables, where another assembly line of volunteers finished each box off with a variety of store-bought goodies like candy, hot cocoa, beef jerky and crackers.

Still others added thank-you notes, cards and various toiletries to the boxes.

“When we first started, everything was chaos, but now we’ve got it down pretty well,” Jones said. “It’s amazing to see this just keep growing and growing. Every time we come together, we have more people helping out.”

Boxes packed Thursday night included extra special treats in honor of the holiday season. Jones said Christmas Lights Etc., a south Forsyth business that specializes in holiday decorations, donated nearly 2,000 small ornaments earlier this fall.

Volunteers were invited to take home as many of the ornaments, which had a small square cutout in middle, and use their imagination to come up  with creative ways to fill the cutout and improve the look of the ornaments.

A contest was held with Carmel Worley awarded the prize for the most creative change to the items.

Worley attached a painted matchbox to the back of each ornament. Each box held a tiny gift, such as a lapel pin or candy, inside.

During the contest, which was judged by Adlen Robinson, a longtime columnist and writer for the Forsyth County News, volunteer Roberta LaBranche was recognized for bringing in the most decorated ornaments. She returned 199 of them for shipment in the boxes.

Regardless of whether they completed ornaments, the volunteers all seemed to be in the Christmas spirit Thursday. Many of them donned festive sweaters or hats as they stuffed boxes.

Georgia Army National Guard member Jesus Cummings was among them.

Cummings spent several years on active duty in the Army before shifting to the National Guard unit housed at the Regional Readiness Center on Aquatic Circle in Cumming.

He said the generosity of the volunteers means more to servicemen and women than they may ever know, especially during the holiday season.

“I was deployed and my wife would send me boxes, big boxes, and I was always happy to get them,” he said. “But there are soldiers whose families don’t support them or can’t support them because they don’t have the means to do it.

“To get a box like this, it brings their spirits up emotionally so that they’re better able to do their job because emotionally they’re happier in a place where it’s hard to be happy.”

The cookie-packing event, which was the last of the year for the organization, ended up being the largest in Treat the Troops-Southern Style’s history, Jones said.

“We ended up with 224 large, flat-rate boxes filled with 22,728 cookies,” she said Friday. “We have exceeded all our prior numbers and that’s amazing.”

 

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