December 22, 2009
Back on cookie mountain
Locals offer huge charity baking effort
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Holiday cookies give Catholic Charities Christmas baskets a home made touch. Families and individuals in need sign up for the free holiday meal that includes a turkey or chicken and all the fixings, plus the baked goods made by Cortland people.
Marie Walsh said the Cortland Standard bake-off is a community project that everyone feels good about — both those that give and those that get.
The director of Catholic Charities sees bakers showing off their culinary finesse, volunteers coming out to distribute food, and businesses donating goods to provide nearly 400 families with a holiday meal for free.
“One of our primary concerns as a human service agency is to provide food for the hungry,” said Walsh, the director of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities Christmas baskets contain fresh fruit, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, milk, margarine, rolls and depending on the size of the family, a roast chicken or turkey, said Mary Jordan, a receptionist at Catholic Charities who was helping fill baskets Monday morning.
The St. Mary’s Church basement was a flurry of activity with boxes arranged on floors and volunteers packing food. Ten tables were laden with cookies, pies, breads and cakes, hand made by Cortland bakers that will go into the baskets.
The agency asks the public to provide baked goodies for a home-made touch. The Cortland Standard has issued a challenge the last five years to area businesses and schools to see who can bake the most for the effort. Called the Ultimate Cookie Challenge, this year the Cortland City School District sought to defend its hold on its title, Best Baker in the County, and the prize: housing the ultimate cookie jar, with name inscribed, on its premises for a year. The enlarged district took the cookie jar away from St. Mary’s School last year with a whopping 1,096 dozen cookies.
This year, St. Mary’s School came back with a vengeance, baking 1,092 dozen cookies to trounce the city school district’s still respectable 568 dozen cookies. The Cortland Standard came in third with a 186.5 dozen cookies, made by 22 employees alone. A grand total of 1,846.5 dozen cookies, or 22,158, were turned in on Monday.
“I just think it’s awesome,” said Mayor Tom Gallagher of the whole effort. The mayor formally changed the name of Cortland on Monday to Cookie Land USA, in honor of Cortland’s baking efforts for Catholic Charities.
“People don’t understand all the work and effort going into this thing. They’ve got to see it, people packing all the boxes, to see the thousands of cookies,” said Gallagher.
“We had so many people helping this year,” said Linda Boylan, the teacher’s aide at St. Mary’s School who heads the cookie effort. Kids in Molly Reagan’s class had a baking party at someone’s house. “They set the alarm off so many times,” she said. Denise Hall’s class made 80 loaves of bread alone. Two teachers baked in class using the cookie effort to teach measurement and reading skills.
“I think the Cortland Schools and I need to take off the glove and shake hands and be happy to be part of this small Christmas miracle,” Boylan said. Both St. Mary’s and the Cortland Standard challenged the school district to break down its vast size into smaller teams, but they weren’t going for it. Next year, the Standard will revise how it does the challenge, perhaps breaking the school district into individual schools or rewarding individual bakers.
“We couldn’t lose to a better bunch of people,” said Wava Bush, a cook manager and co-captain of the Cortland City School District. “We’ve agreed, ‘OK, one year they can have it and one year we can have it.”
Bush and her two grown daughters baked 108 dozen themselves.
“It’s always fun to do the cookie challenge. I think it brings people together,” she said.
“I did very poorly,” said Lois Creighton, Randall Elementary school social worker, who had a goal of 100 dozen with a new cookie gun. “I waited too long to test my cookie press. It didn’t work. It was a disaster. “
She turned in 20 dozen working manually in her kitchen.
Marilyn Inman, a Cortland Standard composer, was the top baker at the newspaper with 35 dozen. She baked breads, which were two dozen a piece in the Standard conversion chart, and used her press to punch out the rest.
“There are a lot of people who are having trouble and I try to help wherever I can,” she said.
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