By Ansley Brackin
Communication Specialist for The North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church
A ton of weight is usually placed on making a promise, unless you’re Alpharetta First UMC’s senior pastor. Then it’s closer to 3.7 tons. After asking an American soldier heading home to Arizona what he missed most, The Rev. Dr. Donald Martin made a sweet deal to deliver the man’s favorite cookie to as many soldiers as possible.
Operation Oreo was born in 2009 after Martin met the soldier on board a plane. The congregation would never expect such a strong ministry to emerge from a flight-long discussion of the life of an army man and the lack in supply of his favorite Double Stuffed Oreos.
The ministry began with low expectations; nonetheless their first year brought about 2,200 packages of Oreos in various sizes and flavors to the offering the Sunday before Independence Day. Last year roughly 6,000 packages were collected.
For 2014, Martin decided to set a goal: 2 tons of Oreo cookies.
With everyone’s eye on the prize, church members quickly caught the attention of several businesses, grocery stores especially, as they stood in lines with piles of cookies. The neighborhood Publix decided to skip the cashier by donating and hand delivering two carts full of the Nabisco snack, estimated to be 10,000 cookies.
It caught the attention of several news stations who have featured Operation Oreo as a pick-me-up story segment throughout the summer.
“It is ridiculous and miraculous,” says Martin of the amazing support of such a random and simple mission.
Patriot Sunday at Alpharetta First is like no other. Interviews of veteran members are played in the service. The sanctuary is decorated with photos of service men and women, handwritten notes, and of course Oreo cookies. The congregation’s efforts brought in around 2,000 packages before the service alone. The cookie count increased dramatically in the span of one morning.
After the grand total was in, a grander question was asked: How does someone pay to ship almost 4 tons of cookies overseas? Even though a cookie shipment fund is promoted throughout the season, such a large fee seemed unapproachable; but again expectations were exceeded when a church member paid for the entire shipment.
The church goes through military chaplains to deliver the cookies to various stations. This year cookies were distributed to Forward Operating Bases Fentry and Gamberi, as well as Shindand, Kandahar and Bagram Air Bases.
In the past cookies were sent to Diyala Province, Iraq, just north of Baghdad in 2009, the Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan in 2010, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011, Alpharetta First’s own 1st Lieutenant Charles Tinsley, and his fellow soldiers of Army’s C Troop, 4/73 CAV, 82nd Airborne Division at Strong Point Tarnack in the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan in 2012, and Forward Operating Base Shank in Logar Province, Afghanistan (one & a half tons of Oreos) in 2013.
Once the cookies are collected from the pastor’s office and delivered, photos return of happy men and women holding their own box of Oreos, some with thenotes and prayers from the children’s ministry. Martin remarks that “they are just incredible”.
Has a goal been set for 2015?
“We want every Oreo cookie in the city of Alpharetta,” Martin laughs, but cannot imagine having limits after almost doubling their last estimation.
One of the biggest questions the pastor is asked is how many Oreos never make it out of his office.
Again, he laughs, “I do not eat a single Oreo throughout the month June.”
The Alpharetta First UMC congregation invites all to mark their 2015 calendars to witness and participate in their Patriotic Sunday service next summer. Providing soldiers with a sweet treat, also provides them with a connection to home.
“We pray they all return safe and sound in victory,” says Martin.