Sending care packages to troops overseas is not new, but it was less than five years ago that the Girl Scouts of Northern California began teaming up with a San Jose-based nonprofit to do just that. And now it's cookie Christmas in July for many troops.
About 33,600 boxes of Girl Scout cookies were distributed from Moffett Field last Thursday to military families. Before that, another 10 pallets were delivered to a warehouse for Operation: Care and Comfort to ship overseas.
Last year, the cookies were dropped off, from Coast Guard Island in Alameda to Camp Parks in Dublin. This year, with the high volume of cookies plus donated items collected by Old Navy, the program's leaders asked the bases to send trucks.
"It was just easier to do it that way," said Julie DeMaria, co-founder and president of the Girl Scouts' Gift of Caring program.
Each cookie season, through the Gift of Caring, customers have the option of donating a box to a food bank or to military troops.
In the beginning of the partnership, there were just a few cases here and there, DeMaria said. This season, troops from the Girl Scouts of Northern California collected about 107,000 boxes of cookies, split in half between food banks and Operation Care and Comfort, according to spokeswoman Dana Allen.
In Milpitas, Girl Scouts collected about 635 boxes. That's a pretty average number, said Allen.
But at the last minute, when five Girl Scouts were given the opportunity to help distribute the cookies at Moffett Field, it was Milpitas' Troop 60596 that responded to the call.
They were Girl Scouts Allison Eacret, Megan Brobst, Anna Chiang, Jennifer Bunnell and Megan Farley, along with leaders Michelle Eacret, Stacy Brobst and Elaine Farley.
"We have certain [Girl Scout] troops that are on standby, that we know if we have a quick request," Allen said, they will act as the "go-to troop."
"They're always ready and very, very active," she said.
After a few hours, the Girl Scouts had loaded about three-fourths of the cookies that were distributed that day onto military vehicles from as far as Oxnard and Fresno.
The main distribution that Operation: Care and Comfort handles is to ship packages overseas once a month to about 150 units deployed oversees. The number goes up to about 200 during the holiday season.
Cookies containing chocolate are a big no-no during the summer, but they go out once fall starts, said DeMaria.
The care packages often get thank-you emails and Facebook messages from the recipients, and some curiosity, too.
"They're always really surprised that this is happening from the San Francisco Bay Area," said DeMaria.
"They're really surprised, because they don't think the Bay Area is very supportive of them," she said of the anti-war sentiment.
An email from Andrew J. from Santa Clara read:
... it was a nice surprise to see the generous and kind gesture of support from the folks. It made me proud to be from the valley when I was able to break out the goods for all the soldiers (most of them are from Michigan and the Midwest) and show them your letters of support.
Outside of the seasonal cookie distribution, the organization sends out toiletries and necessary items such as razors and sunscreen.
And for military families, Operation: Care and Comfort redistributes tickets to events, knowing that some may be unable to afford them.
"As a former military kid [of a family of five], we could never afford it," said DeMaria. But she said she's known of one family who took their son to his first hockey game, thanks to the ticket redistribution program.
"It's very expensive living in the Bay Area," she said. "They don't have extra money to do anything like that."
To learn more about the program, visit occ-usa.org.