Take a thoughtful idea, mix in patriotism and volunteer spirit, and bake 1,400 cookies for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
That was the recipe on Sunday as about a dozen volunteers gathered at Amaretto Bistro on Transit Road in Amherst to show appreciation for Americans serving their country far from home.
Paula Ruberto has a nephew, Dan Warner, serving in the Army in Afghanistan. Members of her family take turns sending him packages to ensure he receives something each week. “My nephew was saying a lot of the guys that are (serving under) him don’t get packages,” often because they have young families who cannot afford to send them, Ruberto said.
An idea was born: Why not send cookies to share with even more soldiers? Ruberto posted a request on Facebook for access to a kitchen at a fire hall or VFW hall for the baking.
Others with loved ones serving in Afghanistan joined in, eager to help with the cookie project. Richard Semonian, owner of Amaretto Bistro, agreed to provide the kitchen, since his restaurant is closed on Sundays. Many of his own family members were in the service.
The volunteers spent about five hours baking 1,400 chocolate chip cookies, not counting the preparation time leading up to Sunday. They plan to ship the cookies this week; they are looking into whether they can get them flown from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station as one option. The cookies are expected to go to at least three different forward operating bases.
There is a strong local connection to the volunteer effort. Warner is a first lieutenant, as are two of his fellow graduates of the class of 2006 at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster: Eric Kufel and Matt Walter, both of whom have been stationed in Afghanistan.
Ruberto said she was touched by how many people turned out to help on Sunday. “I think we started something we didn’t even know we were starting.”
And she said Semonian went “above and beyond” with his contribution, even cooking lunch for the volunteers.
Semonian was just glad to help. “It’s a great thing. When those guys are over there working for us over here, anything we can do to brighten their day is a treat,” he said.