American Legion Auxiliary Unit 25 of Middletown coordinates project

A project that began in Middletown is bringing a taste of home to U.S. military personnel overseas during the holidays.

For the fourth year, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 25 in Middletown is leading the effort to bake, pack and send cookies to the troops.

Margie Donovan-Abbott, secretary-treasurer of Auxiliary Unit 25, organized the project that involves high school students, a restaurant, the Delaware National Guard, a Seaford company and the Oak Orchard American Legion Auxiliary near Millsboro.

“I read an article about Unit 28 in Oak Orchard that said they were sending cookies and asking for people to help,” said Donovan-Abbott. “Then I read an article about Middletown High School students helping the MOT Senior Center bake pies for the Middletown Peach Festival. I thought, ‘Ah ha. I’ll see if the students want to bake cookies for the troops and see if Auxiliary Unit 28 can help us send the cookies overseas.’”

When she asked the school for help, she said the response was an immediate “yes” from Lindsay Baker, culinary teacher at Middletown High School. Then Donovan-Abbott asked if Bob Evans restaurant in Middletown could help and she said the manager enthusiastically agreed to donate the cookie dough.

She told Nancy Bush, the National Security Committee chair at Oak Orchard American Legion Auxiliary, that she had the cookies if they could take care of the process of sending the packages to the troops.

Bush said the Oak Orchard Auxiliary sends care packages to troops overseas each month at the request of families who have service men and women.

“It’s bigger than Margie and me,” said Bush. “Trinity Logistics in Seaford provides the boxes for us and they packaged another 42 boxes of cookies for the troops and sent their packages with ours.”

Money for the project comes from the American Legion Auxiliary National Security Fund and from fundraisers the Oak Orchard Auxiliary holds, and several businesses and organizations also contribute to the effort.

“It’s not a one-man operation,” said Donovan-Abbott. “We just do our small part here.”

Bush replied, “What you do is huge, but it takes a lot of contributions to get the packages to the troops.”

National Guard salutes students’ effort

At the baking session Nov. 16 at Middletown High School, the students received a visit from retired Gen. Francis Vavala, former adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard, and several representatives from the National Guard who thanked the students and the American Legion Auxiliary members.

“This is symbolic of our citizens’ appreciation for the service of our men and women. To see young kids giving of themselves is special, and they’re helping someone who’s not going to be home for the holidays,” said Vavala, who has attended the baking session at the high school all four years.

He said the cookies are “that touch of home, knowing that somebody cares about what you’re doing.”

For the students, the project is also part of lessons on how to use commercial kitchen equipment and plan baking on a large-scale, similar to what they’d need to do for a restaurant or catering business. They planned to bake about 10 dozen large cookies that measured almost five inches in diameter.

“We’re learning about the temperature and time required and how to allow space on the baking sheets for how the cookies spread,” said sophomore Michael Davis. “We started out putting eight cookies on a sheet but we had to adjust that to just six per sheet.”

Davis said the baking project is a way “to help veterans and soldiers and show our support – give love from home.”

Culinary teacher Lindsay Baker said the project is an instructional experience as well as “a great opportunity for students to have the chance to show their support for the troops. Some of them might not have a family member in the service so they don’t have that perspective of what it’s like to have a relative away from home during the holidays. This gives them more appreciation for what the troops are doing and gives them a chance to help.”

Donavon-Abbott agreed: “These people are away from their families and need to know that we care about them – whatever we can do to make them feel that they’re not forgotten, especially during the holidays.”

Her husband, Ray Abbott, said something as simple as a box of cookies does wonders for a soldier’s morale. He’s the former commander of American Legion Canal Post 25 in Middletown.

“I served in Vietnam and the Gulf War and a box from back home meant the world to us, knowing someone cared enough to take the time,” he said. “The troops have a better idea of the logistics involved, what had to happen to get the packages there. It’s not easy.”

Reminder of home

Bush said the Oak Orchard Auxiliary received a touching reminder of the importance of a care package last year at Christmas.

“A young man called and said his grandfather had asked us to send a care package to him for the past two years. He had served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and I think in another place, too. He told me how much he appreciated it. This young man asked if he could stop by the American Legion Post. He presented us with a Delaware state flag that he had carried during all of his deployments.”

Written on the white strip on the edge of the flag between the grommets were the words, “Your packages reminded me of home.”

“We framed that flag and hung it in our post,” said Bush. “You don’t know how much it means to our soldiers over there.”

Along with cookies and other items the troops need like foot powder and wipes, the auxiliary includes cards of thanks, many written by children.

“The soldier who gave us the flag said they take the notes and put them next to their bunks so they have these reminders from home,” Bush said.