STORY AND PHOTOS BY JANIE ROSMAN
An unexpected surprise awaited National Guard troops of the 101st Signal Battalion earlier this month when they arrived for a weekend drill at the New York State Armory in Orangeburg.
Outside an office were 30 cases (12 boxes to a case) of Girl Scout cookies, a gift from Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson via Operation Cookie Drop. ‘The 120 troops in attendance enjoyed them,” Sgt. Major Carl Dornbush, who runs the drill, said, “and one of the sergeants took a picture.”
Spearheaded by Troop 733 Leader Alison Bergman, what began in 2002 (in the aftermath of 9/11) as a way to thank military personnel for their hard work, and remember them when they’re overseas, evolved into an annual program.
Cards, notes and cookies in decorated boxes
Last weekend 351 Girl Scouts from Heart of the Hudson — encompassing Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster Counties — met at Westchester Community College to decorate and pack huge crates for shipment.
GSHH CEO Pam Anderson revved the crowd before the official flag ceremony and program that included remarks from the Honor Flight organization and Captain James Van Thach, and Master Sgt. Mary Kay Messenger, a West Point Concert Band Vocalist, singing “God Bless America.”
“How many Daisies do we have here?” Anderson asked. Scouts cheered. “Any Brownies here today?” Another loud burst of cheer was heard. “What about Juniors? Cadet? How many Seniors and Ambassadors?”
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, whose daughters are Girl Scouts and whose wife, Sheila, is a troop leader and treasurer, emphasized its meaning.
“It’s so important because all the troops can’t be home and would love a taste of home. What better taste than Girl Scout cookies?” Astorino said. “I know it’s not easy. Thank you for doing what you do.”
Cookies are part of Honor Flight care package
Vito Pinto, who recently retired as Westchester County Director of the Veterans Service Agency, was recognized with a Distinguished Service Award today as he was unable to attend the State of the County address in April.
“I knew it would appropriate to do it today, “Astorino said. “He (Pinto) realized early on Cookie Drop was important and became involved in it, including the Hudson Valley Honor Flight, which allows WWII veterans to have a free day in Washington, DC.”
New agency director Ron Tocci was recognized, and Congresswoman Nita Lowey (17th Congressional District) also spoke about the event and its importance.
Spring Valley resident and WWII veteran David Lipman, 93, received Girl Scout cookies before boarding the Hudson Valley Honor Flight in October 2014.
“We went to one collection point, and after they assembled the group that will go on a flight, we had a meet-and-greet two weeks before (the flight),” Kathy Tolf, Lipman’s caregiver, said.
“There was music from the West Point Band, and they gave us a care package with the cookies in it,” Tolf said. The group received a second welcoming ceremony Westchester County Airport’s Landmark Aviation terminal, and also received Girl Scout cookies when it arrived back after the trip.
Troop 40393 (5th to 6th graders, Juniors to Cadets) were busy decorating boxes at their sixth Operation Cookie Drop. Co-leaders Dee Silverman and Galit Maayani incorporated the sendoff into the previous night’s Bronze Award (the highest honor a Junior level scout can achieve).
“It’s a fun and fitness night,” Maayani explained. “All the girls attending wrote cards to the soldiers to pack into the cookie boxes. It’s a nice component.”
Activities included selling rainbow loom bracelets last Veterans Day to help defray costs of mailing cookies overseas and adopting a soldier overseas and shipping her care packages during holidays and on her birthday.
Maayani is also leads Troop 40756 (8th to 9th graders, Cadets bridging to Seniors). “Sales were very good,” she said. The older scouts (six members) sold 423 boxes; the younger troops (17 members) sold 1,678 boxes.
One of Silverman’s coworkers was a female soldier. “She said it meant a lot to her to receive packages during the year,” Silverman recalled. “We do so much for the soldiers during the year, and it’s nice to see where the cookies go.”
Cookie sales increased this year
About 90,500 boxes were distributed last year, an amount Bergman says they’ll surpass this year. She was right: 93, 500 boxes were donated to Operation Cookie Drop.
The United States’ military positions changed cookie distribution — the aforementioned 101st Signal Battalion, which provides communications for large Army operations, used to receive Thin Mints®, Tagalongs®, Trefoils® and other varieties in Afghanistan.
Cookies were also delivered to service men and women at the Naval Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut, Fort Hamilton in the Bronx, Fort Schuyler, the Army National Guard in Orangeburg, Camp Smith in Peekskill and Stewart Air National Guard Base.
Troop 40393 attended its second Fleet Week in May, when more than 50 Girl Scouts and leaders brought cookies to sailors, marines and Coast Guardsmen aboard USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer (WMEC 905).
“We heard stories about being away from home and reminders of home,” Silverman said. Only one of the soldiers hadn’t been a scout, and her troop was impressed that women can be in all branches of the military.”
VA hospitals now receive more boxes as do Army National Guard units. “This is good on so many levels and a positive way to highlight the Girl Scouts, local troops and National Guard units,” Bergman said.
For information call 914-747-3080 or visit www.girlscoutshh.org.