Brightly-colored packages filled nearly an entire freezer in Forsyth County resident Linda Jones’ home. Each of the wrapped packages contained half a dozen homemade cookies made by Jones and friends, frozen to keep fresh.
Those cookies, along with some other treats, will soon begin journeys that will take them across the world, including war zones, the middle of the ocean and anywhere members of the U.S. armed forces may be.
Jones said she first began baking cookies for members of the military about a dozen years ago and in 2012 founded Treat the Troops Southern Style, the local chapter of Treat the Troops, an organization that provides deployed soldiers with cookies, other comfort items and notes of thanks.
Jones — along with friends Carol Hyman, who handles all shipping labels, and Nan Meadows, who does all the customs forms — have seen exponential growth in the group over the last six years.
At the first packing in August 2012, volunteers packed 32 boxes and a total 2,736 cookies. At the group’s packing this September, 368 boxes and 44,160 cookies were personally shipped to soldiers across the world, for a total of 7,995 boxes and 954,764 cookies sent over the years.
Jones sat down with 400 Life to talk about what goes into the boxes, where they go and some of her favorite responses.
Can you tell me about the growth in the group over the years?
“It’s been huge, and a lot more than I ever thought.”
“Everyone doesn’t participate every time, but we are probably up to 400 names on my email list. The way that my computer works, and maybe others, I have 22 different Treat the Troops email lists because if you send too many at one time, they get bounced back because they think it’s spam.
“It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve done the research, and I’ve had issues. It takes me three days to send out my reminder or my results because I can only send out like seven of the lists at a time or they get bounced back.”
What are some of your favorite reactions you’ve gotten from soldiers?
“I have [letters from] several soldiers that will literally make you cry. Can you imagine being in a foreign country far away from your family, your friends, your home and day after day you go to mail call, or some of the places every other week … and you never hear your name?”
“[A soldier who we send packages] wrote me an email about a month ago, and he said, ‘Linda, I’ve been thinking about you. You’re not going to believe what happened. We were taking one of our many meetings with the general yesterday and it was brought to my attention that the post office on base was shut down. The canines they bring in to sniff all the mail, the boxes, the packages and one of the canines went nuts over one of these boxes. Come to find out, it was full of canine treats.’”
What goes into each box?
“We try to put 10 dozen cookies in each box, two magazines at the bottom. We go to our toiletry area, where we have Ziplock bags full of travel-size toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, body soap.”
“We put the 20 [half-dozen] packages of cookies down, then we go to the candy table, where we fill all the nooks and crannies with candy … a couple layers of snacks, then finally the correspondence table, where all the letters, cards and notes are put in.”
Where have cookies gone over the years?
“So many places. Any place there is a deployed soldier who wants a cookie. I know this time we’re sending them to Jordan, Africa, [and] of course, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Poland, Italy. We’ve sent to Germany. Usually, it’s a war zone, but we’ve sent to a variety of ships.”
What’s your favorite cookie and which is the most popular?
“I deal with so many cookies, I don’t have a favorite. Between you and me, there are times I don’t want to smell another cookie … Probably the most popular are the chocolate chip.”