NEW LONDON -- If ever there was a time to bake chocolate chip cookies, that time is now.
In a unique plea, residents from the home community of U.S. Army Pfc. Ryane Clark are being asked to make and donate dozens and dozens of homemade chocolate chip cookies that can be sent to troops in Afghanistan.
By some estimates, more than 2,000 cookies have already been promised and will be packaged and shipped off. But there is room for thousands more in a special cookie convoy that will travel from New London to Afghanistan.
In a flurry of phone calls made Friday, a combination of commercial and military flights has been secured from Minneapolis to Afghanistan so that the cookies can be delivered to military units there.
The cookies will be given to military members in the name of Clark, a fallen soldier who will be buried here on Sunday.
"It's symbolic of more than just the cookies," said Kathy Hartley, pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in New London, where "Operation Chocolate Chip Cookie" is headquartered.
"It's doing it in his honor," said Hartley, referring to Clark.
"Operation Chocolate Chip Cookie" is the result of an outpouring of community response to a request for chocolate chip cookies that will be served Sunday following Clark's funeral, which will be at 2 p.m. at the New London-Spicer High School.
The 22-year-old New London man was killed last week in combat while serving in Afghanistan.
At the request of his family, chocolate chip cookies will be served along with ham sandwiches and lemonade at Peace Lutheran Church following the funeral.
Chocolate chip cookies, made without nuts, were Clark's favorite.
After the American Legion Auxiliary for Unit 537 of New London received commitments from volunteers to make more than enough cookies for the lunch, the decision was made to send leftover cookies to troops deployed in Afghanistan.
When that word got out, they received more calls from people wanting to make cookies.
They also got a call from a local man serving at Dover Air Force Base that he would make sure the cookies were flown to Afghanistan as long as the cookies were brought to Delaware.
That initiated the search for transportation.
Jon Noeldner, a commercial pilot for United Airlines from New London, got United Airlines to agree to donate a flight from Minneapolis to Delaware, but there was no one to make the three-hour drive to get the cookies from the airport to the Dover Air Force Base.
Then Noeldner got a commitment from Fed-Ex to bring the cookies from New London to Dover for free.
In the end, his call to the U.S. Armed Forces Center in Minneapolis got the support of "Operation Minnesota Nice" which secured free transportation from Delta Airlines to bring the cookies to a military base, where the cookies will continue on a flight to troops in Afghanistan, including local men and women who are serving there.
Once the final plane lands in Afghanistan, the cookies will be "distributed immediately" to the troops, said Becky West, president of the Legion Auxiliary.
Because of the unlimited cargo space in the plane, organizers decided to expand the call for cookies.
"We can take a lot more. None of them will be wasted," Hartley said. "We'll box them up and off they go."
People who want to donate cookies can bring them to Peace Lutheran Church, starting Sunday morning.
The cookies will be packed on Monday morning at the church. West and her husband, Graden, will drive the cookies from New London to Minneapolis. The cookies have to be there by noon Tuesday to make the flight.
Meanwhile, organizers found other people eager to donate items for the massive cookie lift.
Heglund Catering of Willmar is donating plastic containers in which to pack the cookies.
Cardboard boxes with lids, like those holding reams of paper, are also needed to transport the containers of cookies.
West said the message of "Operation Chocolate Chip Cookies" has gone beyond Minnesota.
She said a woman with local connections who lives in Washington, D.C., and read the initial story early Friday on the West Central Tribune's website, is organizing efforts at her church there to send chocolate chip cookies to troops.
She has requested a photo of Clark to include in the cookies so that the military men and women who receive them will know about Clark and his sacrifice.