She’s been treating the troops for years
June 5, 2007
Jeanette Cram’s kitchen countertop in Hilton Head Island, S.C., (pop. 33,862), waiting to prepare dozens of chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin or snickerdoodle cookies. Thanks to Cram’s baking prowess, American soldiers in Middle Eastern war zones have been enjoying a sweet taste of home for more than 16 years.
“I think of it as a calling,” Cram says.
When the Persian Gulf War began in 1990, Cram started baking, packing and shipping cookies to U.S. troops overseas. Her efforts began after she saw then-President George H.W. Bush on television reading a soldier’s letter asking for homemade treats. Cram turned to her husband, Jack, and said, “I can do that.”
Since then, the 65-year-old grandmother’s cookie count has risen faster than dough in a desert oven. “Once the press got hold of it, it just got bigger and bigger,” says Cram, known far and wide as “The Cookie Lady.” She estimates she and her assistants have sent more than 400,000 cookies in the last 16 years and notes that her e-mail box stays filled with requests, sometimes 300 a month.
“It’s amazing how just a little cookie can help their morale,” she says of the soldiers who relish her treats”and the warm thoughts behind them.
Cram has about 40 volunteer assistants””crumbs,” as she calls them”who help bake, pack and ship the cookies.
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One of those assistants is Debbie Hudson, 40, who saw Cram on The Martha Stewart Show last year and enlisted help from friends at the First Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga. (pop. 5,802). They immediately shipped 10,000 cookies to names on Cram’s waiting list. “What Jeanette has done with her stamina and fortitude has been a miracle to watch unfold,” Hudson says.
Cram’s cookie recipes aren’t a secret. “I’m a mama cooker, not a gourmet cooker,” she says. “I use the chocolate chip cookie recipe from the back of the chocolate chip bag, the recipe from the oatmeal box for the oatmeal raisin cookies and I found the snickerdoodle recipe on the Internet.”
Shipping days in Cram’s kitchen are a flurry of activity as she and several local “crumbs” pack the cookies”a dozen in each plastic bag, five bags in each box.
Cram uses shredded paper from her local sheriff’s office, where she volunteers, for packing “when there’s not enough bubble wrap,” she says. Then, with a car full of cookies, Cram drives to the back door of the nearby post office and drops off packages that begin their seven-to-10-day journey to eager troops.
Janna Rowe, 41, of Victoria, Texas, says her husband, Army National Guard Maj. John Douglas Rowe, was one of Cram’s lucky recipients. “She is a reminder that alongside our hero soldiers and their families, there are other heroes like Jeanette,” Rowe says.
Cram talks excitedly about her 2005 visit to the Oval Office, where President George W. Bush presented her with a box bearing the presidential seal and filled with red, white and blue M&M’s”an appropriate gift since her chocolate chip cookies are made with the hard-coated candies during the summertime, when chocolate chips tend to melt in transit.
Spending about four hours each day working on her cookie cause, Cram relies on donations to pay her overhead of about $800 a month. She recently obtained tax-deductible status from the Internal Revenue Service, which she hopes will help reduce her expenses.
Cram shows off her double oven and her mixers, wishing for a professional mixer some day so she can make more dough at one time. KitchenAid donated one mixer”a refurbished model painted bright pink in honor of breast cancer awareness”to the two-time survivor of the disease. But whether she uses an industrial mixer or a hand mixer, she’ll keep baking cookies for overseas soldiers until they all come home.
“I’ll quit when the wars quit,” she says.
Visit http://www.treatthetroops.org or call (843) 682-3783 for more information.