When I was 12 years old, my brother was a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Yep, Sgt. Peppers. He was stationed in Germany, guarding the border between East Germany and West Germany. As Christmas neared, we worried he’d be lonely there without the usual hubbub of our house at the holidays. So, we baked all of his favorite holiday treats to ship to him so he could still be a part of our holiday season.
My mother got women in our neighborhood to make batches of their secret recipes that were his favorites. One neighbor made her famous peanut butter cookies that he loved. Another baked her special spicy cheese straws. I made my super-specialty: slice-and-bake sugar cookies straight from their premade refrigerated tube. Hey, I added fancy sprinkles.
We carefully packed them in wax paper and holiday tins. Then my mother took them to the local post office to be shipped.
A few weeks later we got a funny letter from my brother. He described how much he and his friends enjoyed our neighbor’s peanut butter cookies, but by the time they got them they were just a pile of crumbs they had to eat with a spoon. It was, indeed, the thought that counted.
The east-west German border is long gone, but the tradition of shipping holiday treats to men and women who serve our country in the military is alive and well.
Good intentions aren’t always enough. Getting those treats there fresh and in one piece takes time and planning.
To make sure your treats make it safely, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension food safety specialist Elizabeth Andress recommends:
Sending heavy cakes, cookies high in sugar and shortening, fudge and nut bars.
Avoiding cookies with cream or custard fillings or moist cookies. They may mold in humid climates. Certain cream and particularly custard fillings could also make someone sick.
Sending other items that ship well like coffees, dried foods, nuts, teas and mixed cereal snacks.
Pay particular attention to packaging. It’s important to get the gift there in peak condition. She says to:
Place foods and gifts in clean boxes or metal tins and put that box inside a packing box.
Place packing materials like newspaper, foam pieces or bubble wrap around the first box.
Take into account the military and each country’s customs regulations. Size and weight may be an issue, too. If baking and shipping sounds precarious, but you still want to contribute, check with local Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. Both offer options for buying cookies and popcorn that they will ship to troops for you. Also, many organizations online, in your community or through the United Service Organizations need volunteers and donations to make gift boxes for the troops.
Mail delivery to troops overseas is often spotty. The shipping deadline for a mid-December arrival is late November to early December. Check with the local U.S. Postal Service or other shipping companies for exact deadlines.
When the smell of fresh baked goodies fills your house this holiday season, it’s only natural to want to share the joy with your loved ones or neighbors who are serving in the military. A better option may be personal items like sunscreen, lip balm, playing cards, books and baby wipes, which can be just as big a treat as a tin full of homemade cookie crumbs.
(author Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
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