Students of Govardhana Academy in Saranagati, Canada have baked and distributed 5,500 prasadam cookies to businesses, services and friends in the surrounding towns as a gesture of goodwill this Christmas season.
The project was a major endeavor, as there are only fifteen students at the remote school in rural British Columbia, ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Reviving an old tradition started by the school many years ago and much-loved in the area, the entire Saranagati community came together to help, from two-and-a-half-year-old toddlers to senior devotees in their mid seventies.
The cookie operation ran from 10am to 4pm on Sunday December 8th, and used up 30 kgs of flour, 25 kgs of sugar, 5 kgs of oats, and 40 lbs of butter.
Devotees made seven different types of cookies -- almond, double chocolate coconut, oatmeal raisin, ginger, peanut butter, chocolate chip, and coconut macaroon – as well as simply wonderfuls, an ISKCON favorite.
Inside their classrooms, students and community members mixed ingredients, pressed cookies, and laid them on trays. They then passed them through a window where devotees baked them in an outdoor industrial eight level oven.
“It was minus ten degrees outside, and the ground was covered in snow,” says teacher Nandini Villeneuve. “It was so cold that we had to add insulation material around the oven so that the cookies wouldn’t bake too slowly. But our diehard cookie makers stayed out there for six hours.”
The cookies were then offered to Govardhana Academy’s presiding deities, Sri Sri Krishna Balarama. On Monday December 9th, students packaged them in over 600 bags, tied with green ribbon and a tag that read, “Merry Christmas from all of us in Venables Valley.” The back of each bag was labeled with the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, along with the words, “Contains dairy, nuts, wheat, and love and devotion.”
The next day, on December 10th, the students and five adults, including teacher Nandini and Prabhupada disciple Lilamrita Dasi – who was among the original devotees to start the cookie distribution program many years ago – distributed all five and a half thousand prasadam cookies in nearby small towns.
In Ashcroft, which only has about 1,500 total residents, and Cache Creek, cookies were delivered to staff at the library, grocery store, pharmacy, bakery, dentist’s office, wellness clinic, school board, hospital, retirement home, police station, ambulance service, community center, welfare offices, post office, veterinarian, and Kal Tire, where devotees get their winter tires.
At the much more remote outpost of Spences Bridge, cookies were delivered to the First Nations Band Office, which provides resources, medical and social facilities for the indigenous people of the local First Nations reservation.
Recipients were extremely grateful. Some were amazed that the cookies were free, while others could be spotted tucking into the prasadam as soon as the kids left. Many remembered the children from last year, and waxed lyrical about how good the cookies were.
Extra bags were, of course, saved so that the students could enjoy the fruits of their labor on the drive back to Saranagati.
“It was a great experience for the kids – they loved it,” says Nandini. “It also taught them many skills such as communication, social skills, mathematics, and how to present devotees to the public in a nice way.”
Nandini feels that the cookie distribution is an excellent community outreach program. “The main purpose is to give back to the community we do business with, the services we use in town, and the friends we’ve made throughout the years,” she says. “And they absolutely love it, and appreciate the effort. Sometimes we’ll be interacting with government officials for building permits or things like that, and they still remember the cookies they had from a distribution many years ago. Especially in a small town, where people stay in their positions for a long time, we’re really building relationships.”
The plan is to now continue the program annually.
“It’s Christmastime, the time to give,” Nandini says. “And what better thing to give than prasadam?”