Dover church prepares for annual Great Christmas Cookie Walk

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Co-chairs of the Great Christmas Cookie Walk, Lori Speed of Dover, left, and Terri Brown of Wyoming, find a moment for a brief break after preparing pecan tassies at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Dover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER –– St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Dover is about to host one of its most popular annual fundraisers –– the Great Christmas Cookie Walk.

The Cookie Walk will take place Saturday from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

Now in its fifth year, the Cookie Walk was spurred by an idea from Lori Speed who pitched it to her good friend and fellow parishioner, Terri Brown.

“We went out to lunch and I told (Lori) my plan and she was on board right away, although I don’t think she realized everything that would come with it,” Ms. Speed said.

The pair, both experienced in event planning, started out with the basic idea of baking cookies and making an event of the sale of them as a church fundraiser.

But, the Cookie Walk quickly turned into more than any ordinary fundraiser.

The first year began with days of baking a wide variety of cookies, but has only continued to grow. The days of baking turned into weeks and the varieties of cookies turned from a few dozen into more than 100.

Three weeks before the Cookie Walk, the church had already purchased 300 pounds of butter and flour in preparation of baking which will be ongoing until mere hours before the Cookie Walk starts.

During each year’s initial grocery trip to Sam’s Club the pair receive plenty of stares and questions about why they’re buying such a large quantity of baking supplies.

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Eric Klemmer of Smyrna had the tough task of unwrapping hundreds of Hersey Kisses for the cookies.

“We finally decided to make cards to hand out to people so we don’t have to explain to each person and they don’t have to worry about remembering all the information like the date, time and address,” Ms. Brown said.

The dough that’s been mixed over the past couple weeks is lovingly referred to as “snowball” dough and is used as the base for about 60 different cookie recipes.

The week before Thanksgiving, Ms. Brown and Ms. Speed were already in the kitchen trying out some new recipes to make sure everything for sale on the big day is perfect because in years past, there have been a few bumps leading up to the Walk –– most notably an incident of dried- out oatmeal cookies.

“We didn’t realize the oats would absorb all the moisture once we put the dough in the refrigerator so when we took it out, it was totally dry and pretty much useless,” Ms. Brown said.

“Although there have been one or two recipes we’ve had to scrap, we’ve had some disasters in the past that actually ended up turning out pretty well,” Ms. Speed said.

The two always face a time crunch in the days and hours leading to the sale.

Last year they were in the kitchen from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. the day before and were back at 7 a.m. the morning of the Walk.

“A lot of people think it’s impossible to get sick of the sweet smells of butter, sugar and chocolate but by the time the sale comes, I’m totally over it,” Ms. Brown said.

Six ovens and four microwaves are going the day before to bake the last minute cookies and add finishing touches like chocolate dipping, decorating with icing or sprinkles and creating specialty cookies that can’t be done in advance.

“A lot of people find it hard to believe that everything is made from scratch because there are so many cookies, but they are,” Ms. Speed said. “We have so many people working together. A lot of them have experience with baking but some don’t and that’s okay because extra hands are needed in almost every step of the process.”

All the work isn’t done only in the church’s kitchen –– all St. Andrew’s parishioners are encouraged to bake a triple batch of their favorite cookies to contribute.

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Helping prepare for the Great Christmas Cookie Walk is, Jerry Hoecker of Camden who is pressing dough.

All the church’s and parishioners’ cookies are made small so patrons of the walk can try as many kinds as they want without overflowing their boxes which are purchased at the door.

Everyone starts out with an empty box –– $8, $13 or $22, holding between one and four pounds of cookies. The only rules are to wear gloves while taking cookies and the box has to close on its own when you leave.

“Elves” ages 4 to 100 will guide the patrons by directing or walking them to any type of cookie they’re looking for.

Cookie shoppers are encouraged to come as early as possible because in years past the event has totally sold out — and not just by support of the local community.

Ms. Brown and Ms. Speed said people have come from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia to buy cookies.

The first year, all proceeds from the Cookie Walk went toward paying the mortgage of the church’s great hall.

Since then the money has been spread over general church expenditures and food pantries.

“The great hall was built just before the recession so when it was finished — it was difficult to make ends meet,” Ms. Brown said. “But now we are able to use the funds to give back to the community in a lot of different ways, too.”

And the hall isn’t only used by St. Andrew’s parishioners, it’s also used for secular community groups and is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting place.

St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church is at 425 N. DuPont Highway in Dover.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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