Operation MOMS Cookies: Born of a passion to help
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org January 27, 2013 2:20PM
Cathy Dorch, left, Cat Costello, center, and Nancy Rumler smile while packing treats for the last shipment from Operation MOMS Cookies, at its location in Wilmington, IL on Tuesday January 8, 2013. They are winding down now that the wars are winding down. This organization sent care packages to troops over the years. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:04AM
WILMINGTON — Some people talk about supporting the troops — but Debbie Trippiedi did a lot more than talk.
She put her passion for soldiers and their families into action when she founded Operation: MOMS Cookies at a time when the United States was at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the past eights years her group has mailed thousands of care packages filled with treats and hygiene products to members of the military at home and abroad.
But now that the war in Iraq is over and Afghanistan is winding down, MOMS Cookies is coming to a close. The last shipment of about 500 boxes was packaged on Saturday and the group will go out of business on Jan. 31.
Chocolate chip beginning
During a final interview about MOMS Cookies on Jan. 9, Trippiedi opened up about how her family’s military service through multiple generations spurred her to get involved.
Trippiedi’s father fought in the Korean War and lost his sight from a severe case of hypothermia. Her husband is a Vietnam War veteran who was active in veterans organizations ever since he came out of the service at 22.
But even with her family’s military history, Trippiedi was shocked when her son, who had received a college scholarship, announced he was joining the Army in 1998.
“I sat there and cried and I said, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
The United States was not at war, but Trippiedi was concerned. Once their son shipped out, Trippiedi’s husband suggested the couple send cookies and care packages to him. It’s what his mom had done when he was in Vietnam.
Trippiedi liked the idea.
“I sent home baked chocolate chip cookies,” Trippiedi said. “That was tradition in our home. That’s what they loved.”
Passion to help
Soon, the Trippiedis were sending socks, body wash and deodorant to supplement the cookies.
“They have to buy stuff out of their own pockets,” Trippiedi said.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Trippiedi’s son was sent to South Korea. Eventually, Trippiedi’s son asked his parents to send care packages to his fellow soldiers. Trippiedi, who lived in Diamond at the time, asked friends and fellow parishioners at Grace Lutheran Church in Wilmington to help her.
“After 9/11, emotions were very high,” she said. “Everybody wanted to do something.”
As more and more soldiers were sent to combat or overseas, more families reached out to Trippiedi for care packages.
She registered Operation: MOMS (Men/Women of Military Service) Cookies as an Illinois charity in 2004 and a federal non-profit 501c3 organization by 2005.
A core group of volunteers led by Trippiedi managed an estimated 20,000 volunteer hours and a peak of 12,000 packages mailed annually from 2008-2010; hundreds weekly and thousands for holidays.
Corporations, individuals and even soldiers who came back home all donated their time and money. One of the biggest donations came from UPS in Illinois, which not only provided $30,000 in grants, but also volunteers to pack boxes and an 82 percent reduction in shipping fees.
Hooked on MOMS
Some volunteers chipped in for short stints. Others stayed with the group for years.
Tom Cave, who served in Vietnam with the Marines and Desert Storm with the Army, was asked to drive a Hummer in Coal City’s Octoberfest parade in 2004. He sought out the MOMS Cookies booth to thank Trippiedi for all she had done. Eight years later, Cave of Coal City still helping the group.
He knows firsthand from his years in the military how important care packages are.
“It’s the highlight of the day to receive mail and packages,” he said. “That’s all you have to look forward to, other than going home.”
Retired computer industry manager Tim Harris of Gardner saw an ad Trippiedi placed at volunteers.com for help with inventory. He thought it had something to do with a bakery.
But once he learned the group’s mission, he, too, was hooked. His dad, uncles and close friends had all served in the military.
“Some of them came back, some of them didn’t,” he said. “My best friend died of (exposure to) Agent Orange.”
Harris was instrumental in computerizing MOMS Cookies so the shipping labels no longer had to be hand-written and supplies were easily tracked.
Catherine Costello of Godley comes from a military family, and her son is in the Air Force. When both her son and son-in-law were deployed overseas, Costello sought out MOMS Cookies for support.
“You feel helpless when your child is over there so far away and you know the danger they can be in,” Costello said during an interview at MOMS Cookies headquarters. “This is a place you could come to to feel comfort.”
Retiring the mission
With all of her volunteers on board, Trippiedi’s little care package operation mushroomed.
“They have the biggest hearts,” Trippiedi said of the troops who contacted her. “How can you not love them and want to do everything you possibly could to help them?”
But there were still limits. The group could only help Illinois soldiers and their families.
“Your heart breaks every day,” Trippiedi said of the people she had to turn away.
You name it, the group sent it: Candy, oatmeal, hand sanitizer, neck scarves, helmet liners, magazines, protein bars, peanut packs, phone cards, sunscreen, sheets and towels.
“MOMS was much more than cookies,” Trippiedi said. “The cookies (name) was a bit misleading, but how do you take cookies away when that’s how it all got started?”
Once the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started to wane, Trippiedi had a decision to make.
She will turn 60 in May, her husband is 67 and retired and the couple are about to become grandparents for the first time.
All of that led Trippiedi to a decision. She gathered 22 of the group’s volunteers a few months ago and they voted unanimously to “retire the mission.” They didn’t want to hire full-time staff to replace Trippiedi, who has recently moved to Tennessee.
“They’re big shoes to fill,” Cave said.
“We would have to have eight people to take her email over,” she said.
Trippiedi agreed to continue serving as chairwoman of the group’s governing board until Jan. 31. That’s when MOMS Cookies will legally go out of business.
Costello, Nancy Rumler of Marseilles and Cathy Doran of Manhattan plan to create a smaller group to continue to send care packages to soldiers. The group will be called Patriot Spirit. It’s in the planning stages now and information on it is available on the MOMS Cookies website at www.momscookies.org.
Trippiedi, who fought tears several times during an interview at the group’s headquarters on Davy Lane, said her passion for the military will not weaken, even as she heads to retirement. And she will always cherish her years with MOMS Cookies.
“It has been the best experience of my life,” Trippiedi said.