Germaine Broussard, who has sent about 54,000 homemade cookies to American troops overseas in the last three years, is not the little, old, retired woman one might expect of someone who has come to be known as "The Cookie Lady."
Broussard, the McLean resident who received this year's Community Service Award from the Providence District Council, works full-time in business development at the financial firm Smith Barney. She also is president of her neighborhood's citizens' association, a member of the McLean Citizens' Association and a participant in groups such as the tutoring and mentoring program Children Serve Too and the charity golf tournament Tee-Off for Tots.
"Every time I've met Germaine, she's always busy," Providence District Council Chairman Charlie Hall told the residents and politicians who had gathered for the council's holiday party last Tuesday, Dec. 12. Hall noted that he first met Broussard when she was "volunteering a few spare seconds" for the battle over MetroWest.
"If it's important, you don't find time. You make time," said Broussard. She said she began by sending a shipment of Christmas cookies three holiday seasons ago. A coworker had done her a favor, and it was a matter of "paying it forward," she said. "It just continued." The cookies are now sent year-round.
She finds her recipients from a variety of sources, she said. Some are referred by her friends and relatives, some by former recipients overseas, and she found at least one on a Web site. She sends an e-mail saying she will be sending some cookies and including a list of her references. Then, she sends enough cookies for the soldier's entire squadron, platoon or naval ship, as the case may be.
FOLLOWING the anthrax scare, she said, she cannot just mail to a base or a company, but must send the cookies to a specific individual. She sends cookies, she said, on the condition that the recipient recommend to her another troop whose company could use some cookies.
When she e-mailed a soldier on the Navy's USS Shreveport, she got a response saying, "Thank you for supporting the U.S. military." After she sent about 20 boxes of 150 cookies each, she got another e-mail saying, "Holy —, we thought you were kidding," she recounted, self-censoring the expletive.
Two years ago, Broussard recalled, she sent cookies to the Marines' 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, comprising more that 1,500 soldiers. "In six weeks, they got over 7,000 cookies," she said. "I calculate everything on three cookies per person."
Each box of cookies includes the peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal and sugar varieties, she said. "And then, I throw in some weird ones." All of the cookies are made in her kitchen oven. For padding between cookies, she uses the comics pages from the newspaper. "All I want to do is send a smile," said Broussard. "This is a chance for them to be kids again."
Aside from sending cookies, Broussard has found other ways to elicit a smile. She sends both Christmas and Chanukah stockings, each containing two small gifts and a hand-made card from a child. "The stocking itself is a bonus," she said. "The real gift is the Christmas card." She has also created a pen pal program between local children and troops overseas. Teachers, said Broussard, have begun using the pen pal program as a lesson in both letter-writing and geography, she said. "These kids are getting an education, and they're getting respect from people they respect."
She also sends Valentine's Day bags, including conversation hearts and hand-written cards, and year-round care packages containing coffee, clean socks, movies, popcorn and all manner of other items.
RECENTLY, BROUSSARD began a "Battle Buddies" program, in which she "deploys" two identical teddy bears, one to a local child and the other to a soldier overseas. The bear owners then send pictures of their bears to each other, along with notes describing what the bears have been up to. "I have to tell you, some of the bears get into so much trouble," she said.
"I think we're all grateful that somebody in our midst has shown the down-home support for [the troops] that she has," Hall said. The small executive committee of the District Council had received several nominations for this year's award, he said. However, "after her name came up, we just sort of closed the nominations right there."
"I have been to Iraq three times, and things like this really make a difference to the troops," U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) told Broussard. "What you've done is incredible."
"I asked Germaine when she passed the 50,000 mark what her next milestone was," recounted Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth (D). "She e-mailed me back, quick, '100,000.'"
U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) brought Broussard a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capitol as "recognition of what you've done and what it means to our troops and our country."
His wife, state Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34), noted the that the injured troops she herself had visited had their morale sustained by the support of people like Broussard. "They're a long way from home, and it means so much to them," she said.
"What you have done, it really embodies the spirit of compassion that the holidays are all about," Del. Steve Shannon (D-35) told Broussard.
Broussard's operation is now incorporated as trooptreats.com, and she said she is working to become an official nonprofit organization so that all donations will be tax-deductible.
"It doesn't matter if you support or oppose the war; we all support our troops," she said.