Harbor Hills Country Club

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cookie Lady

Harbor Hills resident has baked more than 11,000 cookies for troops
Lillian Riley, a Harbor Hills resident, was recently featured in a local newspaper for baking more that 11,000 cookies for our troops.By GLENDA SANDERS, DAILY SUNLADY LAKE — The kitchen of Lillian Riley’s Harbor Hills home is an efficient work station. Fragrant oatmeal cookies just out of the oven are cooling on a parchment-lined cookie sheet on the stove top. A bowl of cookie dough sits on a counter, waiting to be scooped onto another parchment-lined pan.And, on another counter, Old Faithful, her 45-year-old mixer, equipped with a hook perfect for mixing thick dough, waits to turn sugar, flour, eggs, margarine or peanut butter and such goodies as raisins or M&Ms into cookie dough.“I love to bake anything,” Riley said, “but cookies are handy. You can pick one up and go. You don’t have to cut a piece like a cake or pie.”Until late last year, Riley had only one problem: Who would eat the cookies she loves to bake?Then it occurred to her: American troops overseas, who are sacrificing so much for the country she loves, would enjoy them. But how would she get the cookies to the troops? Where should she send them?A story about Operation Shoebox of The Villages in the Daily Sun led her to a Shoebox meeting to ask for advice. A volunteer there, Mary Harper, steered her to Treat the Troops, a nationwide cookie-baking campaign started by Jeanette Cram of Hilton Head Island, S.C.Riley contacted Cram, who had plenty of common-sense advice for packing cookies and sending them to the troops: all boxes must be addressed to a specific soldier; wrap the cookies in half-dozen batches per plastic sandwich bag; freeze cookies until you have enough to fill a box; use plenty of padding in box; and tuck goodies like drink mix tubes or hard candy in with the cookies.Following Cram’s guidelines, Riley plugged in Old Faithful and became a Crumb — Treat the Troops’ affectionate term for cookie chefs.“I bake as often as I can — at least once a week,” Riley said. “And when I bake, I really bake — as many as 24 dozen at a time.”So far, Riley has baked 11,412 cookies for Americans serving overseas. That number puts her among the top five volunteer Crumbs associated with Treat the Troops.“There’s nothing crummy about Lillian,” Cram said. Although the two women have never met in person, they often talk on the phone.Riley has mailed 144 boxes overseas since November 2006. Although she gladly donates the ingredients for the cookies she makes, Riley needs help with the postage for the boxes. Mailing a flat-rate box used to cost $8.10, and that rate recently went up. Riley keeps a donation can in the pro shop at Harbor Hills so her neighbors can contribute loose change.“I have to give credit to the Harbor Hills Country Club people,” she said. “One couple saved their change and gave it to me in rolls of coins,” she said. “They have continued to do that.”American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake also gave her a check to help with postage.If someone wants to make a larger contribution, Riley accepts checks made out to Treat the Troops and forwards them to Cram, who reimburses her. Donations to Treat the Troops are tax-deductible.Although her statistics are impressive, Riley said she bakes cookies not for the accolades, but for the satisfaction. She includes a note in each box she mails off, and signs it “Aunt Lil.”“That sounds more like family,” Riley said.She often receives letters from soldiers thanking her for the cookies and sharing a little of themselves and their lives with her. Pictures, usually printed off a computer, bring home to her how much her gift means to the young men and women who receive them.“That brings it home to you, when you think that those are the people who are eating your cookies,” Riley said.In replying to the “Dear Aunt Lil” notes she receives, she asks for the names of soldiers who don’t receive a lot of mail from home so she can send them a box.Riley worries about how long her mixer is going to keep going, and she’d love to have a larger mixer so she could make double batches.“Old Faithful is on its last legs,” she said.A 5-quart mixer would allow her to mix double batches, and like Cram, to streamline her dough-making process by having one mixer on the counter for creaming margarine and sugar, and a second for the final mixing stage.Cram feels that someone, somewhere, probably has a mixer they could donate to Riley.“One that’s been sitting on a shelf unused for years,” Cram said. “It would do so much to help.”As long as she’s able, Riley will keep on baking for the troops.“I’ve never in my whole life gotten so much out of anything as I’ve gotten out of this,” she said. “I do this for me. It’s a win-win situation: somebody who loves to bake cookies sending them to someone who loves to eat them.”Glenda Sanders is a features writer for the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9245, or at glenda.sanders@thevillagemedia.com.