SARCOXIE, Mo. —
Three years ago, Bonnie Grace watched on television as more troops were sent to Afghanistan.
She wondered how they could stand to leave their homes and families, and she felt moved to do something for them. But what could she do to bring comfort to those troops and to show appreciation for their selflessness?
“I didn’t know what I could do,” she said. “But I wanted to find something. So I prayed about it and asked the Lord, ‘Please tell me what I can do.’”
That’s when she lit on a mission. Grace had always liked to bake. She used to bake goodies to give away at Christmas. She decided she could send cookies from home.
She arranged to send cookie dispatches to members of the Missouri National Guard’s 203rd Engineer Battalion when they were deployed to Afghanistan.
“Those cookies were always great because it was a home-cooked thing. Baked goods are nice” to receive from home, said Staff Sgt. Roman Koziol of the Joplin armory.
But when members of the 203rd returned home, Grace didn’t know any soldiers or have any addresses where she could keep sending her gifts.
“I felt guilty,” she said of her idle project. So she started calling around and found some service members and addresses she could use to continue her work.
Grace, who worked 39 years at First National Bank and First State Bank in Sarcoxie, has taken on her cookie dispatch in a big way. Since January 2010, she has given her convection oven a workout five mornings a week, baking up to 30 dozen cookies each day. She sends off at least 12 packages of 10 dozen every other week. So far, she has dispatched 470 boxes.
Grace takes no shortcuts.
She uses real butter, not margarine or shortening. She has certain brands of flour, sugar and chocolate chips because she believes they give the best results, although she will gladly use whatever she is given if supporters send supplies her way, she said. She mixes the batter by hand, not with a mixer, “because that’s how the love goes in,” she said.
While her favorite is ginger snaps, chocolate chip is the most popular. She puts an extra layer of those in each box because of the demand. She bakes a variety to try to hit everyone’s favorite: snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, oatmeal, ginger snaps, toffee, walnut.
She has learned to package the treats with cushions of bubble wrap so that they don’t arrive crumbled. She asks the recipients for feedback to make sure the cookies arrive fit to eat, and she has received a thumbs up on most of the shipments.
She bakes one week, and then friends come the next week to help her get the packages ready.
All of her care and attention to detail, coupled with the volume of baking, comes at a cost. After she pays her bills, most of what she has left goes into buying the baking supplies and packing materials, and paying the postage. “I don’t require much, but for this project I give everything I’ve got,” she said.
Grace doesn’t need much to spend on herself, she said, because she has such a passion for using her money to send the homemade comfort to the troops. And, like most people, there are occasions when the cupboards look a little bare.
“There’s been times I’ve said, ‘Lord, I don’t have it,’” she said of the money it takes to pay for the project. Each time, something has come along: a refund, a donation, or some other unexpected money to help her pay the postage or buy the supplies for the next batch.
Her work has not gone unnoticed.
Members of the 203rd gave her a framed print of an American flag inscribed with a message of appreciation.
“I said, ‘I don’t deserve that,’” but the 203rd officials told her, “You don’t know what that meant to those soldiers over there,” she said.
Koziol said care packages of any kind are appreciated, particularly those that contain toiletry items that are sometimes hard to get in remote locations.
“We all enjoy it very much,” he said. “There’s never a care package that goes over there that’s wasted.”
Most service members can use items such as lip balm, lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
A military family assistance specialist can provide information about delivery of care packages to a unit that will share the items if it gets more than it needs. The assistance specialist also can also make recommendations on what is needed.
“If we get an overabundance of packages, they will set them up in a room where soldiers can go to get things when they need them,” Koziol said. “There are a lot of those soldiers always out on the road who can’t get to a PX, and those soldiers use it. It’s a really good way for soldiers to be taken care of overseas.”
This is a statement from the Missouri National Guard about its policy on providing addresses for care packages:
“The Missouri National Guard does not release specific names and addresses of its deployed soldiers and airmen for operational security reasons. Each unit, however, has one or two designated care package unit representatives whose mailing addresses are made available so they can receive care packages for anyone in the unit and then distribute them appropriately.
“For an address to send care packages to a specific or non-specific Missouri Guardsman or unit, please contact Jenn Whitacre, of the Missouri National Guard Family Program, 573-638-9688, or Nicole Hurlbut, the family assistance specialist for the Joplin area, at 417-425-3697.”