Sunday, November 08, 2009

Drop In & Decorate – 10,000 Cookies and 10,000 Smiles

Wally Amos. Debbi Fields. Lydia Walshin.

The names are all synonymous with cookies. But, Lydia’s cookies have some premium ingredients and a team of bakers across the country that you’d surely want to have as neighbors.

Lydia, food writer and author of The Perfect Pantry, created Drop In & Decorate based on a simple idea: bake some cookies and gather a group of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, your worship group or book group to decorate the cookies together. Then donate the cookies to a nonprofit agency serving basic human needs in your own community. It’s a simple idea in a complicated world, and something anyone can do.

Lydia has spent her life dedicated to community involvement, and the growth of Drop In & Decorate, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, has touched an extraordinary number of lives. Now, the sweet movement which began in her kitchen and enters its eighth year of cookies-for-donation is anticipating another milestone. As 2009 draws to a close, Lydia anticipates that the ten-thousandth cookie will be decorated and donated, the time and location still to be determined.

From her rustic log cabin retreat in the Rhode Island countryside, Lydia shares her thoughts on baking, the mission of Drop In & Decorate, a bit of cookie trivia and the upcoming milestone of 10,000 cookies donated:

T.W. Barritt: If, as you say, you don't have the baking gene, how did you end up leading a campaign devoted to baking cookies?

Lydia Walshin: I laugh every time I think about that, but I think it just proves that life takes you where it wants you to go. I'd never decorated a cookie before I tried my hand at these, and I had no intention of ever doing it again. Not only did it challenge my limited baking skills, but also it seemed impossible that someone with no artistic ability could ever decorate a cookie that would look like something Martha Stewart would have made. Yet I knew as soon as I saw the first batch of cookies -- which, by the way, didn't look anything like Martha's reserved and elegant cookies -- that they were special. And when I delivered them to a family emergency shelter in Boston, and saw people's eyes light up, I knew I was right.

What I didn't know at the time was how powerful the simple gift of a cookie could be, how much joy that beautiful cookies -- and all cookies decorated with love are beautiful -- could bring to the life of someone in difficult circumstances. Our cookies are donated to agencies serving basic human needs for shelter, food, health care, employment -- but there is more to life than just meeting those needs. A cookie lets people know that someone in their community is thinking of them, doing something for them, and values them.
T.W. Barritt: Do you have any idea how much flour, royal icing and good will equates to ten thousand cookies?

Lydia Walshin: That would be a lot of math, but here are some fun statistics from our last Drop In & Decorate holiday event here in Rhode Island. We used 35 pounds of flour, 22 pounds of sugar, 27 pounds of butter, 27 pounds of confectioners sugar, 2-1/4 pounds of meringue powder, 3 dozen + 2 eggs, a bit of vanilla, salt and baking powder. Good will? As the ads say, "Priceless!"
T.W. Barritt: Do you have a favorite cookie, or cookie decoration, and why?

Lydia Walshin: At our events here in my kitchen, I always make 20 or 30 (and sometimes more) different shapes of cookies. I encourage people to make the cookies into whatever they see in the shape. So sometimes a tree turned on its side might become a fish; a whale turned on end becomes a cat; a heart turned upside-down becomes a chubby-cheeked Santa. My personal favorite is a square with a fluted edge. I've seen people turn it into a frame for a picture, a house with a door and windows, a package wrapped with a bow, and a tartan quilt.
T.W. Barritt: What do you think the occasion of ten thousand Drop In & Decorate cookies signifies?

Lydia Walshin: Ten thousand cookies is a wonderful milestone. It means that this idea has spread far beyond my own kitchen, to groups of friends, parents and their children, office mates and church groups all across the country. I think of it as our sweet sixteen party -- just the first of many milestones we hope to celebrate. In the coming year we'll be working on partnerships with some national organizations, so that no matter where you are, if you want to host an event and don't know of a nonprofit agency in your own community, we'll be able to match you with an agency that would love to have your cookies. Now that we are a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, we hope to be able to provide financial support. Pillsbury is helping us do that, by offering coupons that can be used to purchase flour, cookie mix or icing, and Wilton has donated some cookie cutters for people who are planning to host their own cookies-for-donation parties. I hope our next milestone is 100,000 cookies donated from events in all 50 states and across Canada.

If you’d like to host your own Drop In & Decorate® event, Pillsbury and Wilton would like to help.

Pillsbury has donated 50 VIP coupons, worth $3.00 each, off any Pillsbury product -- including sugar cookie mix and icing -- to be distributed, first come, first served, while supply lasts, to anyone who plans to host a Drop In & Decorate event (max. 5 coupons per person). And we'll include a Comfort Grip cookie cutter, donated by Wilton, to people who plan to host cookies-for-donation events.

Write to lydia AT ninecooks DOT com for more info on how to get your free coupons and cookie cutters.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Lydia said...

Thank you so much for this lovely post and for helping to spread the word about Drop In & Decorate. We're truly grateful for all the support in the food blogging community.

Nupur said...

What a lovely interview- I enjoyed reading it!

~~louise~~ said...

I had planned on mentioning Lydia and Drop in & Decorate this year. I'm delighted that you added a personal touch, T.W. I must add this to the list. Thank you so much for the lovely interview and the "pinky" reminder!

Fresh Local and Best said...

Thank you so much for posting such an inspiring story! Lydia, you are an angel, and have turned a simple idea into a plan for everyone of us to accomplish! I'm going to link to this post as a public service announcement on my blog of what we can do as we approach a holiday that celebrates being grateful. Bravo!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

What a terrific idea to interview Lydia! You really know how to advertise! You aren't in marketing or PR, are you? ;)

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I'm so glad you interviewed Lydia. I saw the Drop In & Decorate logo on your site a couple of weeks ago and sent it to my sister-in-law who is the cookie queen of our family. She will love this interview also.

Ted Chaloner said...

Thanks so much for your support. It is amazin what Lydia has accomplished with this great idea.

Lucia said...

I just had a Drop In party for my birthday – we did over 250 cookies for a local food pantry.

This will be my 4th year doing a Drop In at work. Staff and clients in a brain injury rehab. program love it. Last year we had extra cookies after our planned donation, so I took them to Curves and sold them, then donated the money to a local food pantry.