CLIFFORD – On a cold wintry day, nothing beats a steaming mug of hot cocoa and a handful of home-baked cookies. If you agree, then be sure to make your way to the Clifford Vacation Bible School’s annual Christmas Cookie Walk, Saturday December 15th, 9:00am-Noon, at the Clifford United Methodist Church on Main Street (St. Rt. 106).

“We’ll literally have thousands of cookies and dozens of varieties throughout the Cookie Walk,” said coordinator Dane Barhite. “And while we advertise that cookies are available until Noon, shoppers through the years have learned to get here early. Once the cookies are gone, we’ve no choice but to post a ‘sold out’ sign on the door.”

Overseen by the church youth, previously this event was a fundraiser for the Clifford Community Youth Group and its many activities. Today’s annual Cookie Walk is still coordinated by the youth, but now it benefits the community’s Vacation Bible School (VBS). “This is actually the 10th year for our Cookie Walk,” said Barhite. “It’s the third year that we’re doing it to benefit our annual summer VBS program. For a decade, the community has always supported this holiday event, and everybody looks forward to it because it’s really a lot of fun.”

Walking around the large church kitchen, browsing long tables laden with trays of temptingly delicious cookies -- including classic favorites like chocolate chip, festively decorated sugar, snickerdoodles, or oatmeal-raisin; specials like Oreo balls, fruit-topped thumbprints, or peanut butter chip; or regionally popular Welsh cookies -- shoppers’ eyes have a lot to take in among all the cookies on display. So, who bakes all these wonderfully yummy mini treats?

“Actually, countless volunteers bake them,” Barhite said. “Church members, friends, families – so many people throughout the area lend a hand to support this event. Many of our congregation bake dozens and dozens of cookies for us. Some bake their family favorites, others bring in something different or unusual, but always delicious. Non-church members bake for us, too, dropping off trays of cookies the night before or early on the morning of the Walk. We even have volunteers who’ll drop off their home-baked cookies at my parent’s business in town while on their way to work.

“Others opt to donate funds that we’ll use to buy the many pounds of flour and sugar and other ingredients,” continued Barhite. “Then some of our youth group spend a couple of weekends baking cookies here in the church kitchen. It’s so good to see all those who participate come together in such a variety of ways. The Cookie Walk has really become a great community-wide event.”

The day of the Cookie Walk, Barhite said that shoppers are given a plastic glove and a container to fill as full as they can. “But once filled, the container lid must close completely,” he emphasized. “Shoppers can choose a small container for $7 or a large one for $14. And depending on which cookie selection, its size, and how they arrange the cookies in their box will determine just how many dozen they buy. A large container can hold as many as four or five dozen cookies, again depending on how a shopper fills their box. It’s really fun to watch some shoppers try to get as many cookies in their box as they can. But the lid must close!” reiterated Barhite with a smile.

Twenty-year old Barhite, a double-majored Junior at East Stroudsburg University, assumed overseeing this event about three years ago. “I’ve been involved with this church all my life,” he said, “and I’ve been involved with our Youth Group as well. When we made the switch from the Cookie Walk funding the Youth Group to having it benefit VBS, I was asked to coordinate things. I know the program well because I’ve participated in each summer’s VBS since I was four years old and have actually been running it for the last seven years.”

As Barhite explained, he begins coordinating the upcoming summer’s VBS program a year ahead when the theme is selected. “Then in January, I release early registration paperwork. Over time, the advanced planning and early scheduling have paid off. I’ve seen VBS grow every year, from about 30 kids initially to last year’s 116 kids from age 4 to those finishing sixth grade. The kids come not just from Clifford and nearby Lenoxville, but from all over the area too. And families who are working here for the gas businesses also enroll their own kids.

“Why? Because VBS is not just a babysitting service,” stated Barhite. “Including the dozens of dedicated volunteer staffers, everyone discovers a week of having FUN in a lively, spiritually-filled week that combines song and music, science and games, and wonderful Bible stories and lessons that take them throughout their life. VBS brings people closer to one another, and closer to God. That’s important, especially in today’s world.”

Barhite noted that the VBS Cookie Walk is also an official drop-off site for ‘Toys for Tots.’ “Run annually by the US Marines, everyone who stops by is also invited to bring a new, unwrapped toy to the event,” he said. “Since 1947, this growing program benefits children whose parents can’t afford to buy them gifts for Christmas. I’d also like to make a plug for our sister church, Lenoxville United Methodist on Rt. 374. From 4:00pm-7:00pm on December 15th, they’re having a fundraising ziti dinner for just $10 and will also collect toys. Dinner tickets are available from church members, and a limited number will be available at the door.”

December 15th is just ten days from Christmas. And with cookies offered in the morning and dinner that night, Barhite promises that the day will “hold lots of FUN for the community! Come join us.”