STORY AND PHOTOS BY JANIE ROSMAN
Elena Stoicheva-Egan carried boxes of Girl Scout cookies to teenagers waiting inside a large, colorfully-decorated crate, handing them off and returning to the huge pile of cookie boxes behind her; 107,000 in all. Their destination: National Guard troops heading out overseas and Veterans Administration hospitals.
“Many families in Rockland County have veterans or current service members,” Stoicheva-Egan, leader of Troop 40273 from Germond Service Unit, said. “This is close to home, something the Scouts can relate to and know they’re helping the community as well as those serving overseas.”
She was one of more than 400 scouts, parents and scout leaders from Heart of the Hudson – encompassing Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties – taking part in GSHH’s 17th annual Operation Cookie Drop at the Westchester County Police Academy in Valhalla last Saturday.
Spearheaded by Troop leader and volunteer coordinator Alison Bergman, the annual project began with Ardsley Girl Scouts in 2002 — in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — to thank military personnel for their hard work and remember them when they’re away from home. Fifteen crates of donated cookies will be sent to Fort Bragg and forwarded to other bases and Veterans Administration hospitals.
“Our focus is to get as many boxes as we can to the New York Guard and the New York Army National Guard deploying to Syria and the Ukraine,” Bergman said. “When most of the soldiers returned home, we stopped sending cookies overseas and had to find new homes for them.”
Two pallets will remain at the Academy, after which members of the Special Operations Police unit will distribute their contents to American Legion posts in the Catskills, nearby veterans, the annual America’s Run for the Fallen (August), and the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. Local food pantries and hospitals will also receive cookie-filled crates.
Part of the fun includes anticipating the response when crates of cookies arrive at their destinations. “We make cards and decorate the crates that the cookies are shipped in, and the Cadettes love to hear something they’re doing is making others happy,” Stoicheva-Egan said.
Cadette Troop 40465 from the Miniscengo – Central Haverstraw Service Unit engaged a team effort to load cookie boxes with help from co-leaders Yu-Shi Lin and Jamie Fodor.
“Our troop has been coming to Op Drop since 2013,” Fodor said. “Each year, we met different service men and women and enjoyed hearing their stories. We have also enjoyed meeting troops from other nearby services units.”
Throughout the years, she said, the girls also loved meeting the many soldiers who received cookies. “Making a personal connection really helps the girls understand the bigger picture.”
Orangetown Supervisor Chris Day spent more than two months at FOB Sykes in Tal Afar, Iraq, and later spent one year in Afghanistan as a Platoon Leader with the 82nd Airborne Division. “We got care packages, and the morale boost was really helpful,” Day said. He recalls getting packages from the Girl Scouts and a few elementary schools, “and we’d share with everyone.”
“Our troop has attended Operation Cookie Drop for nine years,” New City Troop 40393 co-leader Dee Silverman said. “It has been a wonderful experience, and we met so many amazing service men and women, veterans of various branches of the Armed Forces, local politicians, and those involved with Girl Scouts.”
Her favorite part is watching the girls communicate while sorting donations and packing the crates.
“No girl is too little, and there is a component all can help with,” Silverman said. “We are thankful and appreciate their (troop’s) sacrifices and care about them, too. Real heroes wear uniforms not capes.”
Recently-appointed GSHH CEO Marie Reger addressed the crowd prior to the official Color Guard flag ceremony with Troop 141 in Peekskill and Troop 2360 in White Plains. Master Sgt. Mary Kay Messenger, a West Point Concert Band Vocalist, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“You’re learning not just to be helpful, but also citizenship to work together, to do something good for our community, especially for people doing good for us and who are often forgotten,” State Assemblyman Tom Abinanti told the scouts. “Those men and women feel they’re being appreciated when they get a package like this.”
“I am really very pleased that this is the way the day ended,” Bergman said last Sunday. “So much work, so, so, so much work but the pay off — knowing that this first batch of cookies is going to so many great places — is uplifting and worth it all!”
For more information, call 914-747-3080 or visit www.girlscoutshh.org.