Among exceptional women, VFW Auxiliary member Lois Leavitt leads the pack

by: POST PHOTO: JIM HART - VFW Auxiliary member Lois Leavitt adds butter as she operates a commercial mixer while preparing the dough for peanut butter cookies.Generosity and altruism seem to run in families. And who could be more charitable and selfless than veterans who have suffered, endured and survived?

Even a quick look at veterans’ families — especially those in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4273 in Sandy — will find lots of people willing to give until it helps.

That look would include the always-giving members of the Ladies Auxiliary.

Lois Leavitt of Sandy leads a small group of women adept in culinary skills — all members of the Ladies Auxiliary.

Every Thursday morning by 5 a.m. Leavitt is at work getting everything ready for the other four or five members of the group.

“(Leavitt) makes it easy for us,” said Jean Bettencourt, a VFW Ladies Auxiliary member. “She encourages everyone and they know that on Thursday mornings she will be ready and we’re going to have the ingredients and make cookies and ship them. She always has everything we need.”

Members of the group gather in the VFW Post kitchen at least by 7 a.m. and bake more than 70 dozen cookies that are delivered either to a veterans hospital in Roseburg or to a veterans nursing home in White City.

The women only make scratch cookies. Except for using the old, discarded mixer they were given, they make cookies the old-fashioned way.

About once a month, an extra double batch of cookies is baked and sent to a local person deployed on foreign soil. About three weeks ago, 130 dozen cookies were sent to a local young man stationed somewhere in Afghanistan so he could share with his fellow soldiers.

Among those who are involved in the baking club, led by Leavitt, are Dora Fitzpatrick, Patty Ashcraft, Voriece Blair, Nancy Davis and Bettencourt.

But there’s more to this activity than just showing up and putting cookies in the oven.

As leader, Leavitt must anticipate the quantities of materials needed as well as purchase and store them until each Thursday, when she brings the materials to the Post kitchen.

One unusual material is added to the list for those times when cookies are prepared for a long-distance flight to a foreign country. The cookies withstand the bumpy flight better if popped popcorn is used as a packaging material. So Leavitt also must buy lots of popcorn and pop it.

Of course the women receive thank-you notes from the soldiers, and they always thank them for the popcorn. In this case, the packaging material is edible.

She also helps package the cookies in two boxes and deliver them to a business in Clackamas that has scheduled routes to Roseburg and White City. Using the delivery of another vendor reduces the expenses that would be incurred if the boxes were shipped by any other means.

Leavitt also must keep records of who works in the kitchen and how many cookies are baked and shipped. That information along with similar information about the work of a Ladies Auxiliary sewing (quilting) group is sent monthly to the state VFW organization. Those records prove that within Oregon the Sandy Post is the most active VFW Post.

By anyone’s estimate, Leavitt has a part-time job that takes around 25 hours each week because in order to purchase all of the materials the women also must conduct fundraisers such as cooking breakfasts or dinners at the VFW Post as well as drawings and bingo.

In this case, Leavitt’s “salary” ends up being an expense. But she’s not complaining; she’s not even mentioning what her work costs her in time or money.

An old cliché describes her attitude perfectly: It’s a labor of love.

“These boys have done a lot for us,” she said. “The least we can do is make life a little better for them.”

Bettencourt feels somewhat similar to Leavitt, but she expresses her feelings differently.

“My father was in World War II and the Korean War,” she said, “my husband was in the Korean War; my youngest son is a veteran of many military incidents, and is now career military; my oldest son was in the Navy and fought in one of the Gulf incidents; and he’s now on contract to the Navy.

“So (all) the men in my life have fought for my country and for me, and even though my husband and father are deceased I have a very strong commitment to all veterans.”

There’s more to Leavitt’s service than just what her modesty will allow her to say. It takes many hours of work to keep her crew of volunteers supplied and working, and they have never met many of the people they are serving.

Leavitt did say the group made one trip to White City and Roseburg in 2012, and that made lots of veterans very happy because they were able to express their appreciation for the way the women care about them.

Throughout each year, the group receives many letters of thanks.

“We get some beautiful letters back,” Leavitt said, “and some nice pictures. We don’t care what branch of the service they’re in. We send cookies to ships or to wherever they are.”

It is easy to suspect that Leavitt is busier than she says at the tasks she loves. Bettencourt, for example, quietly visits the veterans’ hospital in Portland every week to distribute items she has made from what the hospital staff members call a “comfort cart.”

Among the tasks that keep all of the women busy are the fundraisers.

The reason they are necessary is because cookies for shipment to a foreign base must be mailed first to the soldier’s U.S. base before they can be sent overseas by military transport. The postage for one plastic tub of cookies is between $50 and $100, Leavitt said, depending on how far it is to the U.S. base.

No matter the location, the cookies arrive in good shape, and Leavitt says the letters they receive say that the cookies are not stale.

“From what we have heard, they do enjoy the cookies,” Leavitt said, “and some of the boys come in to see us after they return to the U.S.”

But the majority of the veterans the women serve will never see the kitchen or the cookie assembly process. They are disabled or recovering from a condition or illness in a veterans facility. They are yesterday’s heroes resting on their laurels and waiting for the next shipment of love (cookies) from Sandy. They are people Leavitt has perhaps met once or might meet sometime in the future.

“Some of the veterans I never will meet,” said the octogenarian. “But it makes me feel good (to give veterans cookies), and I’ll be doing this until I can’t do it anymore.”

It’s that kind of commitment that all of the Ladies Auxiliary members share, which makes them all exceptional women. But Leavitt is one of the group’s inspirations.

“She inspires us,” Bettencourt said, “to stay committed to this project that we’ve had for so long.”

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