With hundreds of people circling around long folding tables piled high with bags of cookies, candy and snacks, the main room of VFW Post 9143 off Dahlonega Highway is hive busy energy and volunteers set on one simple task – fill boxes with cookies and repeat.
Thursday that hive of charitable energy took the form of Treat the Troops Southern Style’s June packing event, where hundreds of volunteers gathered to pack care packages with cookies, snacks, drink mixes, candy, magazines and letters, for troops at home and abroad.
And in the nearly six years since the groups inception, Linda Jones and her volunteers have shipped more than 7,500 and 900,000 home-baked cookies to those troops.
During the June packing, Jones commented to the wall-to-wall mass of volunteers, how happy she was that so many people attended what they normally consider their smallest packing event of the year.
“I can almost guarantee you that every packing, we see more and more new faces and so many returning faces,” she said. “You who have served and who have family who have served, know how important these little boxes are.”
And like that, the event was in motion, as volunteers streamed around tables in circuit, filling boxes first with toiletries, then with packages of cookies, snacks, candy and finally a handwritten letter, before being sealed up and addressed and placed to the side.
Jones said that in the six years, they have boiled the process down to a science, with longtime volunteers going instinctively to jobs they have performed for years.
“It is just such a wonderful group effort, and the community is coming together more than Carolyn and I would have ever dreamed,” Jones said to the volunteers before the event kicked off. “If I say any more I’m probably going to start crying, and you don’t want that.”
After a little over a half an hour of activity in the room, a woman motions to Jones that they are completely done in record time. Jones later said they managed to fill almost 230 boxes with more than 27,000 cookies and in just over half an hour.
“When they open that box, I want them to simultaneously see a thank you note and smell homemade cookies from America,” Jones said. “Believe it or not, I have had so many soldiers tell me that when they see a box from home, it totally makes their day, and they can smell America in this box.”
Several veterans and soldiers were at the packing Thursday, and according to Marine Jeremiah Burns, Jones hit the nail on the head with how care packages have affected he and his friends.
“It’s nice to have something from home,” Burns said. “you get things from your family every so often, but it’s really nice just to receive a full box with all sorts of goodies, just things that will remind you of being back home and being around family and friends.”
Burns said that he came out to the event with his girlfriend and her mom, and that he has been thinking about several friends deployed right now and what a care package might mean for them.
“I was thinking that this is something that I can do, it won’t necessarily go just to them, but other people are in the same boat they are in,” he said. He added that he was glad to see so many people come out to support the troops.
While volunteers readied to load up the completed boxes, Jones said that even though June is normally the smallest packaging event of the year, since many people are away for the Independence Day holiday, she was floored by the response from the community.
“I think it went really well,” she said, opening the back of a box truck. “You never know. Tonight with the cookies and snacks were all about done at the same time. That’s why we keep adjusting.”
Shortly after she stepped back from the truck, completed packages began streaming by in the hands of dozens of volunteers.
Tomorrow, Jones and more volunteers will take the loaded truck to a local post office and will unload them to be shipped out to bases worldwide.
At more than $17 per box, Jones said they need every bit of help they can get, year-round.
“We can always use help,” she said, with a smile. “And we have yet to have a complaint.”
Anyone interested in making a donation or helping out at a packing can contact Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to the immense popularity of the packing events and the confined space they happen in, Jones added that they tend to discourage families from bringing young children to the packings.