The basement of Trinity Lutheran Church in Marseilles was abuzz on Wednesday morning as churchgoers hustled to and fro moving homemade and store-bought cookies into bags.
Their goal is to give a little Christmas cheer to those who may not get as much as others, and they welcome churches from Ottawa, Streator and as far as Joliet to take part.
Betty Ball, 82, currently lives in Streator but lived in Marseilles most of her life. She’s been a part of the festivities since its inception, which by The Times account is 44 years, but Ball believes may be even longer.
“I want to bring Jesus back to Christmas,” Ball said.
“It’s in our hearts that we want to help people,” added Juanita Leger, 86, Marseilles.
Leger, as well as Dorothy Gemberling, Marseilles, have also been attending the event since the first gathering.
“I’ve always enjoyed the friendship and fellowship and seeing people you only see once per year because some come from Shorewood and so on, you don’t see any more than that,” Gemberling said.
The cookie confections were first created to help those at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center. Rev. Sheldon Klietz had arrived in Marseilles from Tinley Park and asked if those in the church in Marseilles would be willing to donate to those at the center as they rarely received Christmas treats.
Now the group donates to a number of local organizations including the Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS), Under His Wings Ministry, MorningStar Mission in Joliet, soup kitchens, nursing homes and to police and fire departments if there are enough left over.
The group accepts any cookies without nuts or fruits. They also make sure to pick up store-bought cookies as well since some facilities won’t accept home-baked goods.
Cathi Myre was running the show this year and quickly made her way around the room ensuring all the volunteers had the necessary supplies to box the more than 9,000 cookies with more coming in.
She said the number of volunteers has dropped but the enthusiasm of those who do attend remains high.
“Each year it gets a little less and less as a lot of the people were for years past and a lot of people are now themselves in nursing homes,” Myre said. “We’re kind of dwindling away and need a little new blood."
Still, they continue to find new volunteers, such as Lou Paukovitz, Ottawa, who joined to help the ladies carry cookies to the cars.
“She recruited me,” Paukovitz said of Leger.
“But recruiting me and threatening me is a thin line, you know?” he added with a laugh.
Those who remain still put in a lot of time to ensure the number of cookies don’t drop.
Ball and Leger both estimate they made around 300 cookies each for the drive and volunteers planned to gather for a roast beef dinner once the cookies are delivered in the late afternoon.
“And we used to always say we’ll have broken cookies for dessert,” Leger said with a laugh. “But the broken ones taste just as good as the whole ones."
Ball said she looks forward to the event every year as an opportunity to meet old friends and care for those that may go without.
“Marseilles is a great little town and this is a fantastic church,” Ball said. “We’ve got a lot of loving people here and they reach out to everybody.”