"Thanks a million for the cookies. It means a lot for us to know that back home the people care. It was a nice surprise to receive some home cooking. Operation Cookie to us deployed servicemen (and women) is a complete success. Keep up the good work."
-- Sgt. William Evan s, U.S. Air Force
Mail--letters and packages--are among the biggest morale boosters to the men and women involved in Operation Desert Shield, according to reports from the Middle East. Whether it comes from family, friends or even strangers doesn't matter; everything is welcome.
Anyone willing to bake and package a batch of cookies can take part in Operation Cookie, a nationwide grass-roots effort to airlift cookies to the troops. The endeavor began when Karen Buker, of Federal Way, Wash., posted a request--on a national computer bulletin board--for cookie recipes she could send her son in Saudi Arabia.
In response, she not only received recipes but cookies and letters from all across the United States. When mailing complications arose, Sylvia Mease, a Florida homemaker, arranged for the cookies to be shipped, space available, from Patrick Air Force Base. To date more than 500 boxes (weighing between one and 25 pounds) of cookies have been sent to the Middle East.
Islamic laws are strict, so recipes should not contain alcohol. Buker also suggests including a note or letter. Send cookies to either Operation Cookie, c/o Stephen Butler, 4874 Palm Ave., La Mesa, Calif. 92041-3812, or Operation Cookie, c/o Sub-Trek 1, 190 Malabar Road, No. 119, Palm Bay West Center, Palm Bay, Fla. 32907.
Packages personally addressed to family or friends are sent via the U.S. Postal Service to an APO (Army and Air Force) or FPO (Navy and Marine) box in either New York or San Francisco. The Army Post Office, Air Post Office or Fleet Post Office will handle delivery from those points. Packages may not exceed 70 pounds or 108 inches total dimension (length and girth combined).
The U.S. Army National Public Affairs Office recommends sending oatmeal, molasses and sugar cookies, as well as brownies. Other suggested items for mailing are hard candy, peanut butter, canned fruit and tuna, and unsalted pretzels and snacks. Basically, food that melts or contains a lot of salt should be avoided.
When selecting recipes, keep in mind that it takes 10 days to three weeks for delivery. Fruit cakes and moist quick breads will stay fresh longer and travel better than yeast breads. Bar cookies are a better choice than thin, or tender varieties.
The best damage insurance during shipping is a careful job of packing. Begin by totally covering the item with plastic wrap, then foil. This is relatively easy in the case of cakes and breads. Bar cookies can be wrapped without cutting; delicate cookies should be individually wrapped and packed in layers, with cushioning between. Some items can be baked in inexpensive aluminum pans; after cooling, the same pans will give extra support during shipping.
Place the items in a sturdy corrugated carton that has all the flaps intact so it can be securely closed. Since new cartons are not always available, used cartons are acceptable if checked for flaws. Be certain to carefully mark out all old addresses to eliminate any confusion. The carton needs to be large enough to hold the item or items in addition to plenty of cushioning material.
The U.S. Postal Service suggests using polystyrene, excelsior or shredded newspaper for cushioning. Popcorn is not recommended because it can absorb hazardous fumes from the aircraft and become toxic.
Cushioning should lightly overfill the container before closure. That way even after it settles, the item or items will be prevented from moving around during shipping. When several items are in the same package, they must be protected from each other too.
Sturdy tape should be used to close the carton. Pressure-sensitive, filament-reinforced tape or reinforced paper tape 2 inches to 3 inches wide is recommended by the Post Office. Masking tape is not acceptable because it has a paper base and breaks easily. For extra strength, start the tape on the side of the carton adjacent to the closure.
Clearly print the address directly on the box or a firmly affixed label. Use a felt tip marker or ball point pen to prevent smudging if it gets wet. Include the full address, including ZIP Code.
String or twine should not be used on the outside of packages. This can get caught in machinery used in transporting packages to destinations.
Kathie Jenkins contributed to this article.
This recipe from "City Cuisine" (William Morrow & Co., 1989: $19.95) by Sue Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken is a particularly good version of an old favorite.
OLD-FASHIONED PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 cups soft peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda