By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
Every Wednesday, the scent of fresh-baked cookies wafts through the Omaha Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center wings, enticing staff, patients and visitors alike. At the source of the smell is Lynn Corbeil, a Red Cross volunteer, running an Otis Spunkmeyer oven.
“It’s the best possible volunteer gig,” says Corbeil. “It’s like aroma therapy. Everyone loves a fresh-baked cookie.”
She says that her baking has earned her two joke marriage proposals. But Corbeil is already married — to a Vietnam veteran. Her connection with the armed forces just one of the reasons she was drawn to this opportunity.
After retiring from being an administrative law judge and private practice lawyer 12 years ago, she was looking for a way to “justify my existence.” A news story about a devastating tornado inspired her to reach to the Red Cross.
“There’s nothing stopping me anymore from helping people in need,” she thought.
The Red Cross worked with her to find the right role. Corbeil jumped at the opportunity to be part of the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer team at the Omaha VA — not only was she excited to give back to veterans, but the hospital was only blocks from her house.
In addition to her weekly baking duties, Corbeil has captured veterans’ stories for a Veteran’s History Project for the National Archives in D.C., serves on a SAF volunteer committee and regularly distributes donated, free books to patients and visitors at the VA.
Corbeil deftly uses books and cookies to engage patients and learn their stories. These small interactions can make a big difference.
“A warm cookie can change their day. When I walk in I can see the joy on their faces,” says Corbeil. On a typical day, she visits about 40 patients a day. And if the veteran is receptive, she initiates a friendly conversation.
“You can tell who wants to talk. One question can draw out information,” she adds.
Lynn recalls meeting an 80-year-old veteran and his wife. He was embroidering and she was knitting in their hospital room. After bringing them cookies, she opened a conversation with him by saying “I think they used to call it a French knot.” He replied, “They still do.” This sparked a conversation about their grandchildren, his experience during the Vietnam War and his long tenure in the Air Force.
“After I left the room, I overhead the wife say, ‘Wasn’t that nice?’” remembers Corbeil.
Sometimes these conversations go deeper, talking about the darker side of war or touching on the emotional and spiritual effects of being a veteran. Through it all, Corbeil understands and finds these chats rewarding.
“My volunteer work with the Red Cross and SAF bring me lots of joy,” says Corbeil. “The Red Cross has such a positive global reputation. I wear my 10-year volunteer pin with pride.”
To get involved and join Corbeil in serving active duty or veterans of the armed forces, or learn about other volunteer opportunities, visit redcross.org/volunteer.