Who doesn’t love cookies?
For Frank French, the answer is obvious—everybody loves cookies.
And everybody includes military veterans, which is not a random thing to say. They’re the reason he bakes. Actually, they’re the reason he took a few days off work to make sure he got all the baking done around Veterans Day last month. French bakes cookies for vets, and sometimes he even drops them off himself at (frequently surprised) vets’ doors.
One might ask why French does this, but again, for him, the answer is obvious.
“I want to honor them by baking some cookies,” he says.
And, really, what’s the only thing better than cookies? A surprise delivery of free thank-you cookies.
It’s important to keep in mind that French doesn’t sell his cookies. He collects $10 donations to make batches of them, but those donations cover the ingredients—and usually not all of them. French charitably refers to the balance as his donation to the cause. If he charged for parts and labor, he says, he’d have to charge a lot more.
“I donate my time,” he says.
French doesn’t want to make money off his cookie endeavor, which is fortunate because if he sold the cookies, he’d be breaking state law. In New Jersey, you can’t sell food made in a home kitchen. That suits French just fine, considering he wants to give them away anyway. He sees himself as a neighbor dropping off something fresh-baked, not a business.
French makes boxes of 18 cookies. He’s been doing it for three years and started out with a couple dozen boxes. The second year, in 2017, he set out to make 50 boxes and ended up making 64. This year’s goal was 75 boxes. He found himself making more than 100 “because I can’t say no,” he says.
How he got so many more requests was through Facebook. It seems word gets around when someone does something nice, and the social media world lit up two years ago with word of the Hamilton resident with the sweet message.
Despite his soft-touch protestations, French has had to put the breaks on the number of cookies he bakes. As he’s just one guy, 100 or so boxes seems to be about the the limit. It should be noted, though, that French has had offers of help from his coworkers at Elementis, where French is the facility coordinator there. He says Elementis is his “corporate sponsor,” which means the company has paid for the costs of shipping the cookies to veterans around the country and overseas.
French has shipped his thank-yous to veterans in Arkansas, Texas, California, even Guam, and Elementis has made sure his shipments get where they need to go.
“I’m very blessed to have a corporate sponsor,” he says. “A lot of [my coworkers] donate, too.”
French mails packages of cookies to New Jersey vets, too, but not if they’re within a certain drive time for him. Connect the dots between Manville, Bound Brook, Cherry Hill, and Levittown, Pennsylvania, and if you’re within the bounds and on his list, French is likely to show up at your door himself.
He also delivers to VFW halls, but says there’s nothing quite like the moment a totally confused person realizes someone sent homemade cookies as a thank-you gift, out of the blue.
“My first delivery, I was nervous,” he says. “They were confused they were getting cookies.”
The recipients were an elderly couple who, French says, choked up enough to start him choking up. He’d spent two weeks making his first batches of cookies, and says it was all worth it once he got through to the couple that they were just getting a token of thanks.
“That’s absolutely what makes it worth it,” French says. “I went back to my car and thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”
The attached note that French puts in with his cookies probably helps the emotions flow. It reads, in its entirety:
“Soldier, Protector, Veteran. You go by many names and titles but to all of us who recognize the sacrifices you’ve made to keep us and our country safe we know the one word that describes you best: HERO. Thank you for everything. WE appreciate YOU.” (The emphases are French’s.)
The good vibes aren’t just in the momentary satisfaction of seeing someone smile.
“It’s been life-changing,” French says. “It’s changed my whole outlook on giving.”
It might surprise you at this point to learn that Frank French is not a military veteran. His son, however, is military, and he’s who inspired French to turn his love of baking into a tangible thank-you for those who’ve served.
Mason French is a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army. He’s in the infantry, but is about to go to drill instructor training. He served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that, says French, is what compelled him to do something simple but meaningful.
Right now, Staff Sgt. French is in Texas, and yes, his father sent him (and his family) a box of cookies for Veterans Day.
“Words can’t express my gratitude towards him,” French says. “The hero that he is.”
Something else that might surprise you is French’s love/hate feeling about social media. On the one hand, social media sites, namely Facebook, have connected him with loads of people who appreciate what he’s doing and want to send a box of their own appreciation to someone who’s served.
On the other hand, though, is the familiar woe of disconnection through social media; that feeling that while we’re connected to so many people, we’re not really connecting with them.
“Everybody’s disconnected,” French says. “We’ve lost something. So if there’s a way to bring it back for five minutes, a day, a week, a year, I’m for it.”
French makes batches of cookies around Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Typically, it takes him a few weeks to get all the baking done, mostly at night or on weekends. He lives with his fiancee and her kids, who he calls his “taste test committee.” Generally, he sticks to easy-to-make standards like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and lemon sugar.
French’s baking urge started about four years ago, in a way that seems to inspire so many to try something for themselves—he had a disappointing experience. In his case, with a muffin.
The short version of the story is that French was at a fair a few years ago, where food trucks were plentiful and lines to get to them were dense. He got in line for a muffin truck that was dozens deep, figuring it must be good.
“I ate a crappy muffin,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can do 10 times better.’”
Here’s one last thing that might surprise you—Frank French doesn’t usually eat cookies. Much less muffins.
“I don’t have a sweet tooth,” he says.
That’s not 100 percent of the time, obviously. Once in a while, with the whole house smelling of chocolate chip cookies, French will, you know, “drop” one, and then, well, he can’t go sending a dropped, broken cookie, now, can he?
Maybe one day, French says, he’ll save up and buy a food truck and take his baking skills on the road. He’s aware those trucks cost upwards of $75,000 in some cases, but his eye is on the prize.
“Right now, I’m about $75,000 short,” he says.
And one day he might take one of his coworkers up on the idea of helping him bake a few more boxes of cookies for veterans. He’s not sure about that. For now, it’s something he wants to do on his own.
“A simple gesture,” he says. “A simple act.”