I am lucky to have had many truly amazing and beautiful -- inside and out -- women in my life, and I'm proud to say that Patty (Cardillo) Erdeski of Stamford, Vt., is one of them.
I'm sure she doesn't remember the first time we met. She was only a few days old at the time. Our families lived on Corinth Street and Lawrence Avenue in North Adams, roughly where the MCLA Campus Center is today.
Her sister, Paula, and I were best friends and -- I'll confess -- her brother, Peter, was my first love. When Patty was born, I can still remember Paula bringing me to see her new baby sister.
Paula and I lost touch shortly after that. The college bought all the homes in the neigh borhood, and the families relocated.
Many, many years later, I met Patty again, when our children were on the YMCA swim team. From then on, our lives criss-crossed through many sports -- Little League, Babe Ruth, Drury baseball and Drury football. I discovered that when Patty is committed to a project, she gives it her heart and soul.
With one son serving in the U.S. Army, and another planning a career in the Army after graduating from Norwich University, she has thrown herself into being a military mom.
For Patty's recent birthday -- celebrated at Zumba of the Berkshires -- she raised $1,400 for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that provides funds for counseling and prosthetics for returning injured servicemen and women.
Her pet project now is her "Boxes of Love." In talking to her son, Arich, now de ployed in Afghanistan, she discovered that some of the men and women in his group never received care packages from home.
"I wanted to do everything I could do to get them packages," she told me earlier this week. "I put enough in a box so they can share with all the others in the group."
She added the Boxes of Love weren't just for the holidays. "I plan to continue sending them at least until June, when Arich is scheduled to come home."
But Patty is only one woman -- although a very determined and resourceful one -- and filling the boxes and mailing them is expensive. She put out a request on Facebook for donations of items to send, one I'm repeating here. To find a list of items needed, log onto www.stamfordelementary.com and scroll down to "Boxes of Love."
Items may be dropped off to Stamford Elementary School, Zumba in the Berkshires at 69 Union St., Planet Fitness in the Steeple City Plaza, Nassif's on Ash land Street, or at the North Adams Post Office.
She mailed her seventh package Monday and has three more ready to go. Mailing packages to Afghanistan isn't cheap -- the first three were paid for by donations -- but Patty pays $13.
"If anyone knows of a serviceman or woman in need of a Box of Love, they can message me on Facebook," Patty said. "Please include the serviceman or woman's name and address."
She stressed on messaging on Facebook in order to keep the information private. She will message back once the package has been sent.
I recently ran into Patty at the supermarket. In her cart was a box of canning jars. When I asked what she was canning, she laughed and said, "I'm baking cakes in them to send to Arich."
She said she had gotten the idea from Parents of Deployed Service Members, a Facebook site solely for military parents, on which they share their concerns, ideas and support.
"It's a wonderful bunch of parents, all in it together," Patty said.
To make cakes in jars, Patty used quart wide-mouth canning jars. (Other Web sites I browsed suggested using every size from half-pint jelly jars on up. The important thing seems to be that the jars are straight-sided and wide-mouthed.)
Sterilize the jars, lids and rings in boiling water as directed on the canning jar package, usually 5 to 6 minutes. Take the jars out (carefully, because they will be hot) and let dry upside down. When dry, spray the inside with cooking spray and place the jars on a baking sheet.
Make a normal cake batter, either home-made or from a box mix. Using a canning funnel, pour the batter halfway up each jar. The remaining space will be used as the cake bakes. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.
Take the jar cakes out of the oven (do not frost!) and immediately put on the sterilized lids and rings. After a few minutes, as the cakes cool, the lids will make a popping sound, indicating the jars are sealed. Also as the cake cools, it will pull away from the sides of the jar, making it easier to slide out.
Patty also sent Arich a plastic tub of store-bought frosting and plastic forks so he could share the cakes with his buddies.
In mailing them, Patty wrapped the jarred cakes in bubble wrap, but said the next time she will pack them in Zip-Loc bags and wrap them in socks for cushioning. She cautioned people sending packages to military personnel to use as little packing material as possible.
"Don't use packing peanuts," she warned. "They have to dispose of all the waste. I use loose candy instead. The Zip-Loc bags will help contain the pieces of glass if one of the jars breaks enroute. Plus, they can use the Zip-Loc bags for storing their socks and underwear -- there is sand everywhere."
Arich summed it up better than I ever could, saying, "No matter how you feel about what we're doing over here, support the men and women who are over here."
Amen to that.
Margaret Button is the city editor of the North Adams Transcript. Send recipes for inclusion in future columns to the North Adams Transcript, 85 Main St., Suite 2, North Adams, Mass. 01247 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.