Cookie mommas bring touch of home to men in prison

Cookie mommas bring touch of home to men in prison
The Cookie Makin’ Mommas of San Marco gathered Dec. 16 to make more than 16 dozen cookies for Julie Seals' prison ministry. From left. Amelia Day, Cathe Gray, Amy Barnett, Lori Ibach, Suzanne Honeycutt and Sissy Barker.

Making cookies for Julie Seals’ prison ministry is like sending a “big hug of home,” said Lori Ibach.

Ibach, who lives in San Marco, is one of 12 “Cookie Makin’ Mommas” who gather in Suzanne Honeycutt’s San Marco kitchen each month to make more than 16 dozen cookies for Julie Seals’ prison ministry that serves men in a “transition re-entry center” off Beaver Street in downtown Jacksonville.

The center, sponsored by Bridges of America, is a faith-based work release and re-entry program for men coming out of the Florida State Prison system. It provides intensive substance abuse treatment and serves to help inmates – particularly ones with families – to get their lives back on track, said Seals, who lives in Middleburg but works at the Northeast Florida Area Health Education Center in Riverside.

Seals and her husband, Mike, who was recently named chaplain of the Lake City Bridges of America facility, had been buying cookies and bottles of water out of their paychecks to bring to the men when they held chapel services.

When Honeycutt, who met Seals through volunteer work at the City Rescue Mission, learned of the couple’s sacrifice, she gathered 12 of her friends together to provide the refreshments. The women, most of whom hail from San Marco, also purchase presents for the men to wrap and give to their children during an annual Christmas Family Day in Lake City that Seals and her husband hold in December.

“When Suzanne got wind of it, she stepped up to make a difference! She and her friends got to bakin’ – and the men have been so blessed,” said Seals in an email.

“I feel like nothin’ says lovin’ like baking cookies,” said Honeycutt. “I sent a quick email out to some of the busiest women I know or wanted to get to know better and promised them we would be in and out of the kitchen in no more than 90 minutes,” she said, noting that although most of the women are church goers, they come from different denominations. “They came, we had a ball, and we amazed ourselves with how efficient and quick a group of women can be if we take on a baking project. Each time we roll out cookies, we laugh and say some assembly workers in third world countries might get nervous if they knew how good we are at assembly work,” she continued.

“The reputation of the Mommas has grown and now women call and ask if they can come, too. Unfortunately, my kitchen can hold only so many women and so many giggles at one time so there isn’t room to add too many new Mommas. Until one moves or gets too busy, we don’t invite new ones in often,” she said.

Serving with the Cookie Makin’ Mommas are Cathe Gray, Kim Alexander, Caroline Stake, Angie Cosper, Amy Franks, Amy Barnett, Lori Ibach, and Amelia Day, all of San Marco, Annie Pajcic and Muffet Sims of Ortega and former longtime San Marco resident Sissy Barker, who lives in Switzerland.

Day, who baked with the Mommas for the first time on Dec.16, said she wanted to join the group because she loves her neighborhood. “I love to walk and see friends, and I love being with these sweet ladies and getting to know them,” she said. “I heard about the group and told her (Honeycutt) to get me on the list. Thank goodness she remembered.”

Meanwhile, Gray, who has been with the group for a while, said she enjoys baking because it’s for a “good cause.”

“I get to make new recipes and make new friends. I’ve made about 10 new friends since being in the group,” she said.

Fellowship is also the reason Sissy Barker bakes with the group. “I come for the fellowship and at the same time you’re doing good for someone,” she said. “In other words, we are not just sitting around yakking. We are doing some good for the world.”

The cookies, which Honeycutt says are baked with love and prayer, are meaningful to the prisoners, said Seals. “They feel remembered, valued and cared for,” she said. “Any time anybody takes time out of their life to invest in those men in any way, it impacts their journey and it gives them hope. It lets them know people care and believe in them. It means a lot that the Cookie Mommas do this.

“They know that not only these women take time out of their lives for them, but that they are praying for them,” she said, noting the fact the women know the men are in prison but are working their way back to the community and their families means a lot to the prisoners.

Over the years, the prisoners have sent thank-you notes to the Mommas, and the one time when Barker and Honeycutt visited one of their prayer meetings they received a standing ovation. “They sat quietly during the mini-sermon, but when Julie told them we were the Cookie Makin’ Mommas they stood up and clapped,” Barker said.

Ibach said knowing the Mommas are helping the prisoners makes the baking experience meaningful to her. “Knowing that we are blessing those who are missing the comforts of home, that’s it,” she said. “This is like a big hug from home. It’s almost like you are bringing home to these prisoners.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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