By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Local volunteers have been busy baking this week, preparing more than 100 dozen cookies to be given to traveling military service members.
A new volunteer group, known as “Oklahoma We Can Do This,” spearheaded the cookie drive to support troops traveling this holiday season, through the YMCA Military Welcome Center at Will Rogers World Airport.
Juanita Barker, who owns Strings and Things in Heritage Hills Shopping Center, co-founded Oklahoma We Can Do This.
Barker said the group started as a spin-off of a prayer group formed to support Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both of whom lost legs when they fell into the floor auger at Zaloudek Grain Co. in August 2011.
The new group was formed to take that same spirit of prayer and giving, and apply it to help members of the local community in need.
“Our interest with this is just to help people financially who need help,” Barker said.
The group’s first project was to help a woman cover the cost of a headstone for a grandchild who unexpectedly died. Group members pooled together $500 from their own pockets for the grave marker.
The group then opened a bank account at Bank of Kremlin to collect and manage donations for similar projects.
Barker said in the last several months, they have helped someone in between insurance plans obtain needed medication, and provided walkers and other equipment to low-income seniors. They’ve also adopted three low-income families for Christmas.
Barker said the group hasn’t applied for nonprofit status, but recipients’ needs are verified before any money is expended from the account, and money is given only to service providers, never directly to those in need. The group also posts the bank account statement on its group Facebook page each month so all members can verify the balance.
“It’s just a free-will sharing from our hearts to the bank account, and then on to those in need,” Barker said.
The idea for the holiday cookie drive came up before Thanksgiving, when group member Sheri Wetekam suggested the troops who come into the YMCA Military Welcome Center might enjoy homemade cookies, instead of boxed snacks.
Wetekam volunteers at the welcome center, and also is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Wetekam said the center volunteers offer troops a comfortable place to rest in between flights, or while awaiting transportation. She said welcome center volunteers stay busy hosting soldiers en route to training at Fort Sill, and troops departing to and returning from deployment.
Wetekam said the welcome center hosts 150-500 troops on a daily basis, but during peak holiday travel periods the center’s volunteers welcome as many as 800 troops per day.
It was in preparation for that holiday rush the Oklahoma We Can Do This volunteers set out to conduct a cookie drive last month.
In their first effort, the group gathered 50 dozen cookies, which were distributed to service members traveling through Will Rogers before Thanksgiving.
Wetekam said the cookies were well-received, especially by one soldier who happened to be from Enid.
“Their faces always brighten up when they receive the cookies,” Wetekam said, “but when I told him they were from Enid, he said ‘I’m from Enid,’ and his face really brightened up.”
She said the simple gift of homemade cookies turned the welcome center into a festive gathering place.
“We ended up with troops sitting all around the table talking about home and family and their girlfriends,” Wetekam said. One soldier went so far as to share his plans for proposing to his girlfriend while home on leave.
“We sat there around the table and helped him figure out which day he was going to pop the question to his girlfriend,” Wetekam said. “It was amazing.”
The volunteers sought to expand on their initial success, and local bakers stepped up to the challenge.
The call for cookies went out over Facebook early this week, and by Thursday afternoon Barker had about a dozen large boxes in her shop, all filled with a variety of homemade treats.
“I am amazed at how this cookie drive has expanded from the first cookie drive,” Barker said.
Oklahoma We Can Do This co-founder Jan Snapp said the cookie drive is just part of the group’s larger goal of providing support for the community. That support, Snapp said, comes not just in physical and financial means, but also in the spiritual.
“We’ve had people who haven’t asked for any money ... they just wanted us to pray for them,” she said. “We’re a praying bunch of women, and we’re proud of it.”
She said volunteering to help others in need provides its own reward.
“We’ve all been so blessed in our world, we want to help others where we can,” she said. “When you do something for someone, and you see that little spark in their eye, that’s what it’s all about.”
For more information on Oklahoma We Can Do This, go to the group’s Facebook page.