Photos courtesy of Jenna Z and CorgiPants; used with permission.
In November 2007, food bloggers everywhere helped to spread the word about the Drop In & Decorate® cookies-for-donation program. Jenna Z, who blogs at CorgiPants and works in Champaign, Illinois, loved the idea, and invited her co-workers to decorate and donate cookies. After her most recent Drop In -- a Halloween event -- she kindly agreed to an interview.
Tell us a bit about you.
I am 27 and I live in Champaign, IL. I work at a software company as
an assistant librarian in their corporate library. We have a small
collection of books but I am in charge of arranging for a lot of books
to come in from University libraries. I maintain our company archives
and also am in charge of a small journal publication that we produce.
What made you decide to do your first Drop In event?
Drop In & Decorate appeals to me for two main reasons. I am
always looking for service opportunities that allow me to give more
than just money; I feel more connected to the recipients and it also
assures me that my donation is going to who it is meant to help and not
into someone's pocket. I also like to keep my charity local whenever I
can, and Drop In & Decorate lets us choose who we give to. Our
time, energy and resources stay local and we know that they are going
to who they are meant to help.
Where do you donate your cookies?
Our cookies go to the TIMES Center (Transitional Initiative and Men's Emergency Shelter). The TIMES Center serves two meal a day to anyone who needs them (men, women and children) and has overnight residence for men only.
How did you connect with the agency? Had you worked with them previously?
When we were planning our first event I called around to several agencies, children's care centers, women's emergency shelters, but a lot of them turned me down because they could not accept home baked goods. I understand that and wasn't discouraged. When I contacted the TIMES Center, they were so welcoming and encouraging! They are open to all donations and really appreciate whatever we bring. I knew of the TIMES Center because a craft group I belong to had made afghans and washcloths for them before.
Before each event, I call and let them know what week we will be bringing cookies and ask if there is anything they specifically could use at that time. Then I add that to the email invitation that I send to the whole company. In the past they have needed shower gel, toothbrushes and toothpaste; this time they were in need of razors and shaving cream.
How many of your colleagues participate in your Drop In events?
I usually have between 4-8 people sign up beforehand and around 10-15 casually drop in throughout the two-hour period (we hold the event from noon to 2 pm). We have our event during work hours. I book a conference room, cover the tables with plastic tablecloths so that we don't make a mess, and lay out all the goodies for everyone to choose from. It makes it really easy for anyone who wants a little break in the afternoon to do something fun to just pop down and decorate a few cookies!
Our events coordinator (work events, not cookie events) is such a dear -- she saves all the large plastic trays that food comes on and we wash them and use those to package our cookies. I send out an email to our social mail list one week before the event and suggest people sign up to bring either two dozen undecorated cookies OR some sprinkles and frosting. This gives me a rough estimate of how many cookies we will have and I can make up any extra to reach our goal of at least 100 at each event. (I've never had to do this; we've always had more than 100 cookies! The goal is 100 because that is generally how many people the TIMES Center feeds each day.)
How many Drop In events have you organized?
We have had three so far, Christmas last year, Easter/Spring this year and now Halloween.
What advice can you give to someone who's considering hosting a cookies-for-donation event?
If some agencies tell you they don't accept home baked goods, don't give up! There are many agencies out there that are happy to accept all donations.
Anything you'd like to add?
I know some people think "Cookies? These people need clothes and jobs and soap, not cookies!" But I really think everyone deserves a treat and sometimes when you are down in the dumps and life is not on your side, a specially decorated cookie for whatever holiday or season it is can make you realize there are nice things, someone who cares, someone who thinks you're special and deserve something special. We put love and time and thought and creativity into our cookies and I think that really shows, at least I hope those who receive them notice it. Yes, people need clothes and jobs and soap -- but that's not all life is, and I want the people in our community who may be down on their luck to know that they are still people who we care about and who we want to wish well and provide not only the bare necessities, but something more. Thank you so much, for your support and inspiration! You are helping people all over!
Thanks to you, Jenna, and to all of your co-workers who've helped to bake and decorate cookies. You inspire all of us!
Please visit Jenna's blog for more photos from her Halloween Drop In and previous events.