JOLIET – Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of young women, 27,672 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies soon will be making their way to U.S. soldiers around the globe.
It’s all part of the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois’ Gift of Caring program, which encourages participants to donate cookies to veteran groups, including Operation Care Package, a Joliet-based nonprofit that weekly ships more than 150 boxes filled with supplies, food and other items to U.S. troops.
“We have people just come up to our [cookie] booths and give money for the troops,” said Patti Graw, a Girl Scouts volunteer who organized the cookie donation program with Operation Care Package seven years ago. “We had one guy who donated $1,000.”
This year’s donation of 598,068 Thin Mints, Samoas, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Savannah Smiles and Tagalongs cookies was the council’s largest yet.
Volunteers on Wednesday unloaded a full semitrailer of cookie cases into storerooms, hallways and just about any open space available at Operation Care Package’s packing center at the Will County Farm Bureau.
The most popular cookie with soldiers? Thin Mints, hands down.
“The veterans love the chocolate,” Graw said. “It’s a reminder of home, and it’s a reminder that we haven’t forgotten about them.”
The idea of helping the Girl Scouts help the troops has a great appeal, organizers said.
“So many people know someone who is or was in the military, it hits their hearts,” said Anna Jarrett, product sales manager for the Northern Illinois council, which includes 1,500 troops northwest of Joliet. “It’s a $4 box of cookies. Who wouldn’t want to do this for our troops?”
It’s also a great option for people who can’t or shouldn’t be eating sugary sweets.
“People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol or whatever can still participate,” said Brittany Wylie, a Girl Scout senior from Plainfield.
The cookie donation to Operation Care Package follows a $7 million donation last fall of moisturizers and sunscreen by Rodan + Fields Dermatologists.
Still, keeping the nonprofit running is a challenge, Smothers said. Postage alone runs about $2,500 a week, and then there’s the never-ending need for toiletries, food and other items.
“Now I have a lot of cookies and moisturizer,” Smothers said. “Other than that, I have to shop each week just so we can keep up our packing.”
At the moment, the charity is in need of canned soups, chili, tuna, beef sticks and jerky, trail mix, protein bars and powder, coffee, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, washcloths, baby wipes and athletic socks.
Volunteers pack the supplies into flat-rate boxes each week and ship them all over the world. Many go to places such as Afghanistan, Kosovo, Guam and even ships at sea.
Smothers said she has about 2,800 soldiers on her mailing list. New requests arrive daily.
“Somebody just sent us a request from a little island I never even heard of,” Smothers said. “It doesn’t matter. Everyone who requests a package gets a package.”
The need for supplies seems to be increasing, even as U.S. military operations overseas are being scaled back, Smothers noted.
“A lot of soldiers are having their PXs close, so they don’t have access to anything unless they live near a city,” Smothers said. “It’s pretty hard when you hear from a colonel or a major telling us ‘Please send my guys anything you can.’ ”
Especially Thin Mints.
“They don’t care if they’re melted or not,” Smothers said. “They just tell us to keep sending them.”
For more information on Operation Care Package, call 815-723-6960 or visit www.operationcarepackages.org.
If You Go
What: Operation Care Package will co-host a Blues n’ Rock Benefit For Our Troops featuring Tallan Noble Latz, T Bird Huck and Danny and the Devils
When: 5 to 11 p.m. May 17
Where: at Cantigny Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 367, 826 Horseshoe Drive, Joliet.
Details: The event will include music, dancing, raffles, a cash bar and food for purchase from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets, $10 in advance, also will be available at the door. Proceeds from tickets and raffles will benefit Operation Care Package, food will benefit Men’s Auxiliary, and the bar will benefit the VFW.