The holiday season, from then end of November through December, is hands-down, our busiest time of the year. As with any gift company, we try to make sure that everyone who wants to send out our gourmet cookie gifts has the opportunity to make their recipients happy.
Every year is unique at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, but our mission is the same – to make people happy when they receive a gift of our cookies. Some packages are popular some years, other packages (like our Large Cookie-Brownie Tower) are popular another year. This year, we planned ahead more than ever, made changes to our website to enhance search, were blessed with more orders than we filled in 2011 and welcomed new friends who found us in the search engines. 2012 was a good year.
To cap it off, we wanted to do a little something different in our family and our business when it comes to giving back some of what we received. We support a variety of charities throughout the year, but we decided this year that we wanted to make it personal. To make a real connection. To take some of what our customers gave us in the form of orders and gifts for their friends, clients, employees and family, and make a small impact on a personal level.
Last year, my friend Oie Osterkamp took over the reins at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham as the Executive Director. Short of having Ronald himself running the show, I don’t think it would be possible to find a better person to fill this role.
For those of you not familiar, the Ronald McDonald House provides room and board for families and children who are undergoing medical treatment. Sometimes this is short term lasting for a few weeks, and sometimes it can last for months. These families often travel distances to have their children treated and would have no other choice, but to try and stay in a hotel or rent an apartment.
The first Ronald McDonald House was started by a professional football player in Philadelphia whose child had to have long term treatment. Seeing others who faced the often severe financial hardship of finding a home away from home, he thought there should be another option. And so, the Ronald McDonald House concept was born.
Durham was the 13th location, was the first House not associated with a professional sports team and is close to the world-renowned Duke University Medical Center. It currently houses up to 54 families, and there is a waiting list. In the years since opening it’s doors in 1980, more than 28,000 children have stayed at the House.
We visited their website and found they had a ‘wish list’. Rather than simply sending in a check, we decided to go on a shopping spree, pick up items from the list, and deliver them to the House. And of course, we could not even consider a visit without taking along a supply of our ‘magic cookies’ from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.
I can honestly say that of all the Christmas shopping trips I’ve ever been on, this was the most fun we’ve ever had. Debbie, Anna and I donned our Santa Hats and descended on the local warehouse store to fill up a flat bed with items destined to help these families with the little things, the every day items that we often take for granted.
When we arrived at the House, Oie greeted us with his typical beaming smile. We loaded up the brass bellman’s cart to the top with paper towels, food, cleaning supplies, brooms, snacks, and of course, the ‘magic cookies’.
We started with a complete tour. This was the first time I’ve been to a Ronald McDonald house. Thankfully, we’ve never had to rely on their services. I was simply amazed at what we saw. Yes, it was designed for parents and children who are sick, but the attention to detail and the amount of genuine love and compassion that exuded from every corner of the house, was overwhelming. Like a warm blanket on a cool morning, the Ronald McDonald House of Durham wraps its guests from the moment they walk in the door, welcoming them to their home away from home.
After the tour, we sat down with Oie and had pictures taken with the items we brought to the House. Oie signed mats for each of these and we mounted them and gave them to friends, family and some of our customers at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies.
Before we left, I had the opportunity to meet one of the residents at the house and to have him try our ‘magic cookies’. What is in these cookies that makes them magic? How I wish there was something I could sprinkle in there that would wipe out the cancer, the infection, or any of the other diseases that have attacked these children. But alas, I cannot. I can however, pour everything possible into our cookies so that when someone tastes them, they cannot help but smile. Whatever is happening for that brief moment, fades, and they can enjoy the simple goodness of our ‘magic cookies’.
Clifton had been sitting quietly while his step-dad was preparing food in the kitchen. I asked him if he’d like to try a magic cookie and thankfully, he agreed. He was a bit reserved, but eventually the smile did appear and once again, for that brief moment, I accomplished my mission.
We left Oie and the Ronald McDonald House of Durham that afternoon with a fresh new perspective on giving. You’ve probably heard the old saying that ‘it is better to give than to receive’. Our visit that day was proof positive that it is entirely possible to get back far more than you give. We certainly did on that day.
I offer up a word of thanks to all the friends who ordered gifts at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies this past year. Know that we put the same level of love and care in your packages that we put in the ‘magic cookies’ we shared with the guests at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham. And while we may never know for sure that everyone had the same reaction as my young friend Clifton, I’ll be thinking about him every time I take a batch out of the oven. Now that’s a gift whose value far exceeds what was given.