Cookie ministry provides comfort

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) -- The simplicity of a single homemade cookie. Could it be a source of sustenance for those mourning the death of a loved one?

Six and a half years and more than 50,000 cookies later, the answer is most definitely yes.

Providing comfort to grieving families in Williamson County through the Cookie Comfort Ministry are, from left, Charlene Cochrane, Evelyn Pearson, Evelyn Hilton, Drea Briggs, and Barbara Elder of Oak Valley Baptist Church, Franklin.
Photo by Brandy Blanton
When Evelyn Pearson first asked herself that question she was a longtime member of Oak Valley Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn. She had experienced the deaths of her father-in-law and then her mother. Coping with the pain of loss led Pearson to attend a non-denominational ministry held at Oak Valley called GriefShare.

Her healing became a catalyst for personal reflection. How could she be a comfort to others and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ? "It was the Lord that gave me this idea," she said.

Pearson first presented the idea of food for grieving souls to a ministry committee at Oak Valley, hoping someone would take on her vision.

Instead, the members asked her to develop it with God's guidance. "They said Evelyn why don't you look into it. I called Pam (Stephens) and she was out of town. While she was out of town, I prayed about it. I thought to myself when Pam calls me, if she's excited, I am going to do it," Pearson recalled. Stephens is the co-owner of Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and Cremation Services.

The Comfort Cookie Ministry at Oak Valley Baptist Church, Franklin, provides cookies for more than 2,000 funerals a year in Williamson County.
Photo by Brandy Blanton
"I had been praying more for a contact ministry to help others," Pearson explained, adding that she knew from her own experience at Williamson Memorial just how much homemade food mattered to families.

While a hot meal is often a source of strength and comfort to families, Pearson learned from Stephens that the taste of a simple home baked cookie could go a long way toward feeding a soul in mourning.

Moreover, as the community has grown, the sheer number and frequency of funerals means the delivery of full meals is not always the easiest way to start a consistent ministry. A simple container filled with homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies can give tired families much needed sustenance, she said.

Comfort Cookie Ministry

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," is the Bible passage from the Book of Matthew 5:4, that Pearson and her team have adopted for The Comfort Cookie Ministry.

It is just one of several promises Jesus gave to His disciples during what is called the "Sermon on the Mount" or "The Beatitudes."

For Pearson, it was not enough just to jump in and start baking cookies. She identified people who shared her passion. Then the baking team meticulously chose easy recipes, taste-tested in Pearson's own kitchen with the help of her own children.

"We tried freezing the baked cookies and freezing the cookie dough to decide which would be the best for our emergency runs. We use these when there is an unexpected increase in the (funeral) services."

Hands down, Pearson's children were sold on the cookie baked fresh, rather than the prebaked and frozen for later delivery. The bulk of the cookies are created by individual bakers with the ministry who work on Mondays and Fridays making batches to package for the daily number of visitations and funerals.

Just as the brown sugar, butter and vanilla are mixed with love, so the personal packages are delivered along with an inspirational note from The Comfort Cookie Ministry of Oak Valley. The note bears the name of the family being served and contains Jesus Christ's message in Matthew 5:4, along with information about GriefShare and Oak Valley Baptist Church's location.

Charlene Cochrane is on the delivery team, responsible for Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday drop-off. While she downplays her role compared to the job of the bakers, it is clear that without a messenger the gift would never make it to the hearts of those in need. "You all are what makes this work," Cochrane said.

In between spooning drops of batter, Evelyn Hilton, "The Other Evelyn" as she is often known, quickly assures Cochrane that she is wrong. "But, no, I think it takes you to deliver all these cookies," said Hilton, noting the time Cochrane spends getting the cookies to multiple visitations and funerals weekly.

Hilton, along with Barbara Elder and Drea Briggs gather every other Monday morning in the small church kitchen on Lewisburg Pike to bake from scratch. It was their baking collaboration that led to adding oatmeal, for energy and good health, to the chocolate chip recipe. There are other recipes used by this baking ministry, but one rule holds true: no icing, no nuts, and no fruit can be used.

Synchronized response

These ladies have created a special system for serving tasty cookies to those enduring the exhausting and stressful process of grief. When Pearson sought Stephens' advice about the ministry, her instincts were not just affirmed but supported.

A church ministry with members ready to participate is not enough to accomplish this kind of mission. In Pearson's case, the actual gift could not be given without the cooperation of Stephens and her staff at Williamson Memorial.

"This cookie mission has been a wonderful addition that families just don't expect," Stephens said.

"They are always overwhelmed with the fact that someone thought of them," she explained. "Sometimes families have food sent in, and in some cases, the only thing for the family are the cookies sent by Oak Valley. We are so honored that Oak Valley has reached out to so many over the years and ministered in a 'sweet way' to families we serve."

In addition to cultivating a committed group of bakers and deliverers, a plan had to be devised to accommodate the daily flow of information required to sustain the cookie ministry.

"We receive two e-mails a day from Williamson Memorial letting us know how many visitations and services are scheduled," Pearson said.

This kind of collaboration, Pearson noted, allows her bakers and deliverers to provide for every single funeral. There are currently more than 2,000 a year.

Oftentimes, Pearson says she is known as the "Cookie Lady." The letters of thanks tell the story of this ministry's reach.

A poem authored by one of their own Oak Valley members, particularly expresses that positive impact.

Betty Jane More found her own family receiving the blessing of the cookie ministry at the passing of her husband. She penned the poem titled "The Little Things That Count" and sent it to the bakers. The first two verses read "It's the little things that count; That seem to make one's day; Small, insignificant things; That help one along the way/Little things add up; Like pennies do, you know; So, at the end of the day; One's blessings seem to overflow!"

For more information about GriefShare and other ministries provided through Oak Valley Baptist Church, contact them at www.oakvalleybaptistchurch.org.

This story originally appeared in a Southern Exposure Magazine and was also published by the Baptist and Reflector. Used by permission.
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