OLEAN — If cookies have one holiday to call their own, it’s Christmas.

They’re exchanged; donated to nursing homes; offered to friends and family; and for the families who go to the Olean Food Pantry this month, they’re enjoyed.

The Social Ministry Group at Bethany Luther Church in Olean has been arranging the event for 13 years. While they don’t keep count, it easily takes well over 100 group, church and community volunteers just to bake the cookies, not to mention preparing them for distribution.

The volunteer bakers begin dropping them off with group or church members, or at the church itself, a few weeks before being taken to the food pantry for distribution. They’re stored in several freezers until it’s time for wrapping them up. By Sunday, they had 280 1/2 dozen — that’s 3,366 individual cookies.

“It’s a lot,” said Tammy Aaron, president of the Social Ministry Group. “But it will be a lot more.”

Sunday afternoon volunteers gathered at the church to pull the cookies out and mix them up before packaging, allowing a variety of cookies within the dozen. Some were packaged as a special dozen, like those that were gluten- or sugar-free. After wrapping, two more volunteers were writing out Christmas cards and attaching them to each dozen.

“Then they’re taken to the food pantry so when the pantry patrons not only get this food, but cookies as well,” Aaron explained. “Each family gets at least a dozen, but larger families will be accommodated with more so everybody gets at least a couple, three cookies.

“This is just the first of a few rounds of wrapping,” Aaron said. Everyone will be baking throughout the month — meaning it’s likely between 10,000 and 12,000 cookies will be baked, bagged and donated for the month-long program.

Aaron said that they can always use more help. Individuals and groups that are interested in baking a dozen (or many more) cookies or hanging out in the kitchen with like-minded people, contact Aaron at (585) 307-2641 or Gail Cross at (716) 372-3115.

With that many cookies, what if the food pantry doesn’t have enough space to accommodate all that were prepared that weekend?

“Sometimes in the past, if we’ve had some left over, the overabundance will be taken to the Genesis House,” Aaron said.

Why not? After all — they’ll make more.

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