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Sugar and spice

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By Stephen Knapp

When you need to make a whole lot of cookies fast, call a Brownie.

Kay Bohan did, and the small troop of ponytailed volunteers who reported to the Lutheran Church of the Cross on Saturday morning, March 15, helped make this year’s Soldier Bake the sweetest one yet.

“I made enough dough for 100 dozen cookies,” said Bohan, who started the delicious tradition of sending homemade cookies to U.S. military personnel serving overseas in 2002. “This year we’re sending cookies to platoons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea, but the majority will go to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Soldier Bake just keeps getting bigger every year.”

And smaller, too, if you count 7-year-old Alexa Brown, a pint-sized pastry powerhouse who knows her way around a cookie sheet.

“At home I make chocolate chip cookies because they’re my mom’s favorite,” said Alexa, lightly freckled and looking distinctly Easter-y in a pink sweater and even pinker dress. “My Uncle Craig is in the Air Force, and I’m making cookies for him. And for all the other troops, too,” she hastened to add.

One of those troops belonged to Suzy and David Barlow. Their son, 1st Lt. Nathan Barlow, graduated from Evergreen High School in 2000 and leads a combat team attached to Colorado’s own 10th Mountain Division that’s currently stationed near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq. Along with cumbersome armloads of flattened priority mailing boxes, the Barlows brought a large map of Iraq framed with pictures of all 21 soldiers in their son’s platoon — youthful faces that will soon have a tasty reason to smile.

“This is wonderful,” David said. “This kind of thing means a lot to them.”

Before digging into the messy business of cookie-making, Alexa detoured to a small table where piles of blank cards and envelopes awaited any who wished to send a personal greeting to the men and women in harm’s way.

“Dear the Troops,” she wrote. “I am making cookies for you. I hope you like the different kinds of cookies. Thanks for keeping us safe. Alexa.”

No little girl can abide an unornamented letter, of course, and Alexa finished hers off with an ink rendering of Old Glory and a stick-on foam airplane she labeled a “Safety Plane.” Her artistic sensibilities satisfied, she took up station at the rolling table, easily holding her own among the grown-ups busily filling trays with little balls of chocolate chip cookie dough.

Accompanied by several friends, Clear Creek High School junior Sonya Lomp worked the wrapping table, packing warm stacks of sweet treats in clear plastic cartons. Too young to remember Cold War suspicions and hostilities, Sonya was only too glad to perform a kindness for Americans serving under arms.

“I really wanted to volunteer for something,” said Sonya, who grew up in the Siberian industrial city of Novosibirsk. “People don’t really volunteer for things in Russia, and I thought it would be a good experience.”

A worthy sentiment, that, but what she said next was simply shocking.

“People don’t make cookies in Russia,” Sonya said. “Cakes and pies, yes, but not cookies.”

Baking cookies is second nature for Kate Ballino, a seventh-grader at Evergreen Middle School, and it’s a rare weekend that doesn’t find a tray of sweet indulgence cooling on her kitchen counter. Chocolate chip, gingerbread, peanut butter — Kate understands only too well a cookie’s power to ease the mind and nourish the soul.

“Cookies are a good way to support them,” she said. “Even though we’re not really with them, it shows them that we’re kind of spiritually with them during their hard times.”

Seeing that the baking process was already generously staffed, Kate might have been forgiven for cooling her heels until a slot opened up at the wrapping table. Instead, she immediately — and cheerfully — threw herself into the yeoman’s duty of assembling shipping boxes, stuffing them with yummy how-di-dos and taping them securely shut.

Shipping is serious business at the Soldier Bake. Last year, it cost about $1,500 to get dessert into hungry soldiers’ hands, and this year’s production will cost even more.

“It’s expensive, but we’ve got a very generous sponsor this year,” said Christine Harris, an officer in the Soldier Bake army who seemed to be everywhere at once. “Bentek Energy gave us a $1,000 check for shipping. It’s a huge help.”

Besides the mountain of home-baked good wishes pouring out of the church’s industrial-size oven, dozens of cases of Girl Scout cookies had been collected for the cause — nearly 500 boxes of tasty Trefoils, tempting Tagalongs and delicious Do-si-dos. Alexa gathered a solid share of that bounty by her own elfin self.

“I would say, ‘Would you like to donate a box of cookies for the troops?’, and they usually would,” she said. “I collected over 50 boxes.”

Alexa wasn’t the only one. Wilmot Elementary School third-grader Samantha Hansen helped her Brownie troop pull down an impressive 66 boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

“We did it to help the military because they’re helping us,” explained Samantha, seriously.

Finding every post on the cookie line already manned, Samantha wasted no time creating her own special billet. Sitting down at the correspondence table, she became a one-girl decorating committee, sealing each completed envelope with colorful plastic stickers depicting everything from hearts to butterflies to dinosaurs. Along the way, she found time to compose her own heartfelt — and curiously formal — message to some brave warrior fighting in a distant land.

“Dear Soldier,” wrote Samantha. “Thank you for serving our country. Here are some cookies. We hope you enjoy them! Love, Your Friends in America.”