Food & Drink

Cookie Project spreads cheer to those working this holiday

If you’re working today, John Marcotte would like to say you’re not forgotten. And have a cookie, please.

“I always have that philosophy in life – you shouldn’t be a spectator,” said Marcotte, a Sacramento writer and editor. “If something bothers you, do something about it.”

And what bugs Marcotte most on Christmas Day is all the people who have to work and can’t spend the holiday with their families, friends and loved ones.

“It all started with a El Pollo Loco a few years ago,” he said. “We were in the drive-through (lane) and saw a sign, ‘Open Christmas Day.’ I told my wife, that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Why are they open on Christmas?”

Of course, that wasn’t the only business open on Christmas. Marcotte started making a “naughty list” of others.

More Christmases passed, and the list grew longer. Two years ago, Marcotte finally decided he had to do something for baristas at the Starbucks, burger flippers at fast-food joints and counter clerks at the 7-Eleven – the forgotten people who have to work on Christmas. (Don’t forget the cooks at El Pollo Loco, too.)

Enlisting help from his wife and daughters, he started the Cookie Project: “On Christmas Day, we will be traveling the city delivering Christmas cookies to people working crappy jobs that in a rational and kinder world should be at home with their families.”

This simple idea hit a sweet spot.

“We had maybe a dozen people help out that first year,” Marcotte said. “Last Christmas, it started to snowball. People kept showing up with more cookies. We gave away about 1,200 cookies.”

And this Christmas? The Cookie Project has gone nationwide. About 300 volunteers signed up to bake cookies or distribute them. Make that worldwide. “We’ve got volunteers in Tazmania who are going to give out cookies,” Marcotte said.

“Ebenezer Scrooge was the ultimate Christmas villain,” Marcotte said. “Why was he so bad? He made one man work late on Christmas Eve. Every Sizzler location will have 40 people working all Christmas Day – and we don’t blink an eye. That’s just wrong.”

With their cookie campaign, the Marcotte family has gone on local television as well as on National Public Radio.

“We realize there are exceptions: police, firefighters, drugstores in case you have a sick child,” he said. “But do we need Church’s Fried Chicken and Sizzler open, too? We put our idea out on Facebook, and it spread virally. This Christmas, we’ll have volunteers distributing cookies in Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis, too. It’s just going crazy.”

Today, the local Cookie Project volunteers will scatter around Sacramento, bringing a little cheer to clerks and waitresses. They dress in Christmas outfits and dole out jolly greetings along with chocolate chips.

“The best part is getting to make cookies with my girls,” said Patti Marcotte, who coordinates the family baking. “But I love seeing people’s faces when we hand them some cookies. We’ve actually made some people cry; they’re so overwhelmed by such a simple gesture.”

Added John, “What’s the worst-case scenario? They don’t celebrate Christmas; they want to work on the holiday. They still get cookies. There’s no down side to all this.”

He said that his daughters Anya, 9, and Stella, 6, really bought into the idea. They help bake as well as hand out cookies.

“The biggest thing for me: my girls’ reaction,” Marcotte said. “For them, Christmas has become about giving to others. It’s a lot more than just opening presents. What they’re excited about – going out and giving people cookies.”

During Christmas week, Anya and Stella helped their mom make sheet after sheet of treats. The young bakers prefer the traditional cut-out snowman, snowflake and candy cane-shaped sugar cookies, decorated with loads of sprinkles or colorful royal frosting. They also are adept at plugging chocolate kisses into soft mounds of peanut butter dough. They sample a few, too.

“Mmmmmmmm!” the girls proclaimed in unison after a taste test.

“I’ve baked Christmas cookies since I was a kid,” said Patti Marcotte, who also works in communications. “We made Charlie Brown cookies every Christmas – they were the best.”

Such memories bring instant smiles, just like the cookies the Marcottes will be distributing today. This has become their family tradition, one they share with many others.

“We have amazing retention among volunteers,” Marcotte said. “Once people do it, they want to do it again. Some people are alone on the holiday, and this is a way to be part of something larger.”

Even if that larger something starts with little cookies. They’re delicious bites of appreciation, given and received.

“We’re looking for people who may be having the worst Christmas ever,” Marcotte said. “And we’ll try to make it better.”