On Christmas morning, as countless families hunker down at home, excitedly ready to tear into the gifts they’ll receive, the Marcotte family, supported by altruistic armies of local volunteers, will be gearing up to canvas cities across the country and around the globe on a giving mission. The goal: to deliver homemade cookies and holiday cheer to “people working crappy jobs who, in a rational and kinder world, should be at home with their families.”

The Cookie Project, a homegrown idea turned global movement now in its 4th year, was inspired by, of all things, the drive-through line of a local fast-food joint. Founder John Marcotte told WYSK, “As I pulled up to the pick-up window, I noticed a sign: ‘We will be open Christmas Day.’ I turned to my wife and said, ‘That is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.'”

As the 2011 holiday season got underway, John and Patti started seeing more and more of those signs going up on other stores and restaurants in their hometown of Sacramento. It screamed, “SOCIAL INJUSTICE” to them, and they were determined to do something about it.

“Ebenezer Scrooge is considered the ultimate Christmas villain. What did he do? He made one man, Bob Cratchit work on Christmas Eve. But every single Sizzler restaurant will make 30 people work all day Christmas Day and no one blinks an eye.”

The Marcottes hatched their plan, settling on homemade cookies as their vehicles for spreading holiday cheer… c’mon, who doesn’t love a Christmas cookie? So with the help of their two young daughters – Anya and Stella (ages 6 and 3, then) – as well as eight willing friends, they got to baking and packaging, and baking and packaging some more.

600+ cookies later – GASP – the group of twelve givers hit the streets of Sacramento on Christmas Day and delivered every last cookie package to unsuspecting employees at a hit list of “We’re Open!” stores and restaurants that John had been keeping (his version of Santa’s Naughty List).

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It was a small act but it had enormous impact simply because it evoked the true spirit of the season… giving. Patti said, “Seeing the surprised smiles on faces of total strangers was amazing.”

That sealed the deal… the Marcottes would turn their Cookie Project into an annual Sacramento event with the hope that they’d get more local volunteers on board each year.

What John and Patti didn’t know was just how quickly and just how far their idea would spread.

But all it took was a simple Facebook page, some local news coverage (as well as an interview on NPR), and BOOM… The Cookie Project went viral with people from all over wanting to know how to get involved and how to replicate it in their communities. As John puts it, “It just went crazy!”

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Their family project took on a life of its own thanks to people with hearts as huge as the Marcottes. In 2012, the total number of cookies distributed doubled to 1,200 in Sacramento, and other Cookie Project volunteer groups sprung up in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. Last year, the Sacramento cookie count rose to over 2,000, and John started hearing from even more volunteer groups in other parts of the US and beyond… Eugene (OR), Saint Louis (MO), Boston (MA), Albany (NY), Tanzania, Australia, and Manila. This year they plan to crush those numbers and expand the movement’s reach with the help of even more volunteers who want to get on their giving train.

So in just three weeks, legions of Santa hat clad Cookie Project volunteers of all ages will carry on the tradition for the 4th time, showing up at gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, drug stores… just about any establishment that keeps its doors open on Christmas, which keeps employees from enjoying the day.

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“No one should be forced to work on Christmas,” John laments. “Of course there are exceptions: police, firefighters, ER staff – but El Pollo Loco? McDonald’s? Kmart? Starbucks? Is our need for a Gingerbread Latte really more important than allowing the barista to spend some time with his or her family?”

John’s biggest issue is with the people at the top, the brand heads who put these practices in place. “I always say that the guy who decided that Church’s Fried Chicken should be open on Christmas is at home with his family, and it’s working class people that end up having their holiday ruined in pursuit of a few extra dollars.”

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But The Cookie Project is not about sticking it to the man, it’s about offering a glimmer of humanity on a day that many employees feel forgotten, reduced from people with lives and families to profit centers. “People are so happy to see us when we deliver the cookies. We’ve had people cry because we remembered them. We’ve had people dance. We’ve received countless heartfelt emails from people who tells us that we got them through a difficult day.”

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As awesome as receiving cookies and a smile from a kindhearted stranger must feel, the rewards are equally as priceless for the givers. “We get so much out of it. We genuinely love doing it, and every single person who has delivered cookies with us, comes back and does it again the next year. It just makes you feel good inside to do something nice for someone — and we don’t do it enough as a society,” John shared. “Most importantly, the lesson we are teaching our kids is profound. For them, Christmas has become about giving instead of just getting presents. They look forward to it so much — almost more than opening their presents. Almost.”


The Cookie Project Needs You

John, Patti, and The Cookie Project elves are planning this year’s deliveries RIGHT NOW! Anyone, anywhere can participate. Just send them an email letting them know where you’re located and they’ll talk you through the steps, send you some labels, and help you coordinate with anyone else who might be Cookie Project-ing in your town.

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