Soldiers and volunteers come together to deliver baked goods and holiday greetings

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska – A sweet surprise greeted single soldiers and airmen residing on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson this week as 2,752 holiday bags were delivered to their barracks doors by volunteers. The USO and Elmendorf Richardson Spouses’ Club (ERSC) spent days working around-the-clock to ensure gift bags coupled with cookies were delivered to the soldiers before they took off for holiday leave.

“I was expecting to see one of my sergeants when I heard the knock, but it was a nice surprise to see a gift for us instead,” said Pvt. Lane Vandall from 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, after opening his door.

Volunteers consisting of military members and civilians from across the base pitched-in to the collected group effort with the goal of providing a little holiday cheer for those that may not have the chance to see loved ones this month.

“Usually, the USO cooks a full dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas for the service member and their families, but this year we couldn’t do that. So, the USO JBER staff decided to give a ‘gift’ to every single service member in the dorms and barracks. We contacted community and corporate partners; we held a Stuff The Truck event in November to get the local community involved. We had hundreds of volunteers come out when they heard that we were working to give a holiday bag to all the single service members living in the dorms and barracks And of course our USO volunteers and staff were there every step of the way pitching in,” said Barbara Knaak, Center Operations Supervisor, USO Alaska JBER.

The Alaska USO united with ERSC’s annual “Cookie Caper” event to add over a dozen baked cookies to each bag, a win-win situation for both organizations according to Casey Andrysiak, ERSC senior advisor.

“I think it’s awesome to be able to give the soldiers something for the holidays and through the USO, who has done an amazing job since I’ve been in the military, we are able to show them that we care about them,” said Master Sgt. Ella Nunley-Spaights, Operations Noncommissioned Officer, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

“Over thirty-six thousand cookies were more than we could bake, but local supporters, including the America Legion Post 1, Alaska Airlines, Midnight Sun Service Dogs, Association of the United States Army, and many, many others stepped-up to pitch-in and pack these bags full with a little holiday cheer,” Andrysiak said.

“Partnering with the USO to make Cookie Caper bigger meant each service member received over 20 items,” said Carey Crance, ERSC Vice President of Administrative Operations. “Of course, the cookies are the little touch of home.”

Not only were the barracks covered, new service members in-processing and those restricted from movement due to COVID-19 also were recipients.

“I think it’s a good treat, I wanted to bake cookies, but we don’t have an oven so it’s a good treat and I don’t have to bake cookies this year,” said Pvt. Carrin Rodriguez, CBRN Specialist with 95th Chemical Company, 6th Engineer Battalion.

The generosity of community supporters and national partners as well as the commitment of volunteers to meet the aggressive delivery timeline catapulted the “Cookie Caper” to the next level.

“Aurora Military Housing donated pens; Starbucks gave us coffee, snacks and a variety of cups. USAA donated runner bags, key chains, jotters, and hand sanitizers; Safeway donated 4,000 grocery bags for packaging. Odom donated Reign Energy drinks; Tito’s vodka sent four pallets of full-sized hand sanitizer. The Yellow Ribbon Girls put together gifts and notes; and we had over a hundred handmade beanies donated by Randy Grove from York, PA. We were also able to purchase hot chocolate, hand warmers, candy canes, lips balms and holiday cards thanks to our USO donors”, said Jeanie Butler, Center Operations Supervisor, USO Alaska, JBER.

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