Record - 33 DIALOG(R)File 714:(Baltimore) The Sun Flashbulbs popped and television lights glared as Jan Hanbury removed another sheet of piping hot chocolate chip cookies from the oven.
"People meaning well have written kind words about me, but that didn't help the soldiers at all, not at all. If I'd known that, I never would have done the interviews," the Darlington resident told the hoard of reporters gathered in her kitchen last week. "I'm only talking to you now because I want to help the project."
The 240,000 soldiers now serving in Operation Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf -- and the 200,000 servicemen and women who were recently called up -- have been uppermost in Hanbury's mind for the past few months.
Hanbury decided to begin sending cookies and writing letters to the troops about two months ago after watching a television broadcast about them in Saudi Arabia. Hanbury said she was saddened as she watched a soldier walk away empty-handed from a mail call.
"I don't know if it was the age of the soldier or the look on his face, but it broke my heart that he didn't get any mail," said Hanbury, who is a mother of three grown children, ages 25, 22, and 17. "I don't know about guns or chemical warfare, but I can bake up a blue streak. So you do what you can do."
So she began to bake. Then she sent the cookies with letters, powdered drink mixes and other items, addressing the packages to "any service person."
"You send letters, and you get answers," said Hanbury. "And these people have names -- like Mara, my two Rons, Troy, Jason, Michael, James and Ray, and Sabrina."
Sabrina, an adjutant with the military police, was one of the first soldiers to write to Hanbury. The letter reads in part:
"It is a special feeling to receive something from someone we know, but it is even better to know that we are supported by the people back home. It is rare to find someone who cares enough to send cookies."
Although the Department of Defense doesn't recommend sending chocolate because it may melt in the hot desert climate, Hanbury said she's learned one important fact about military personnel.
"I find the soldiers want chocolate chip cookies, and they don't care if they're melted or in crumbs; they'll eat them anyway," she said, smiling.
Her new-found friends also wrote to tell her about soldiers in other units who would be grateful for letters or care packages.
Hanbury says she quickly realized she would need more than her own two hands to reach out to the other soldiers, so she began to recruit her Harford friends others from as far away as Virginia and Florida to help her. She also began matching up military units with church or other community organizations. Her network now includes more than 30 church, school and civic organizations.
Although press interviews make her uncomfortable, she has agreed to them because she wants more people to send letters and care packages to the soldiers.
"It's my Pollyanna mentality," Hanbury said with a smile. "If in two weeks we can involve in excess of 10,000 people locally, there's no reason we can't get everyone to be aware of this need in a month. You touch one person, and they in turn can touch others."
The publicity has been worth the few moments of discomfort, Hanbury said, as she posed for pictures and answered strangers' questions. Just last week she was contacted by a woman whose 73-year-old mother in Missouri was eager to write letters and had heard about Hanbury's project.
"I really want people to understand that we need to act as a unit, as a country, to stand behind the people who serve it. It's just that simple," said Hanbury. "If you ask someone over there, 'Which would you rather get, a telephone call or a letter?' They'll say 'A letter.' Because you can pore back over the words time and time again. I call the project 'Hugs from Home' because a letter is like a hug. It's our way of embracing these people."
Hanbury is not alone among Harford residents organizing projects to reach out to the soldiers in the Persian Gulf. Among the other projects under way:
* Students in Harford's 43 public schools are writing letters and preparing care packages for soldiers, said Albert Seymour, a spokesman for the Harford Board of Education. A shipment of letters will be taken overseas by military transport Wednesday, he said.
* The Aberdeen Homemakers Club, in conjunction with Aberdeen Middle School, is preparing packages of Christmas presents to send to soldiers participating in Operation Desert Shield.
* The Dublin/Scarboro Improvement Association will collect donations for Christmas packages for troops at a decorated Christmas tree display and sale event to be held at the Holiday Inn in Aberdeen Dec. 1-4.
Show the troops you care
* Letters or care packages to Army, Air Force or land-based Marines participating in Operation Desert Shield can be sent addressed as follows:
Any Service Member
Operation Desert Shield
APO New York 09848-0006
* Mail for Navy and shipboard Marines should be addressed:
Any Service Member
Operation Desert Shield
FPO New York 09866-0006
* If you have questions about what to include in care packages or how to wrap the items to minimize damage, call the hot line number sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.: 1-703-274-3561.
* Suggested items for care packages:
Cards, games, stationary, pens, hobby items, batteries, baseballs, basketballs, free weights, prerecorded video or audio tapes, sun visors, sunscreen, insect repellent.
* Items that should not be included are perishable items and food that contains pork or alcohol.