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(Buffalo, Wyo.) You cannot be in Maria Domingue’s company without her attempting to feed you. Maybe it’s a side effect of raising four boys on her own.
Her eldest son had enlisted with the Navy and another was on his way to becoming a police officer in California, where they’re originally from, when she decided in 2003 to pack up her two youngest boys and head to Wyoming.
“We ran out of gas coming in to Buffalo,” she said. The move had been planned for three years, with Maria attempting to get to Buffalo, specifically, because she liked the small town atmosphere.
But soon after her younger sons graduated from high school, they also enlisted in the military.
“They couldn’t be plumbers or contractors or window washers,” she laughs.
It was when her son Nick was injured in Iraq in 2007 that she took an interest in helping other military families deal with the death or injury of a loved one overseas.
“This couple drove all the way from Ohio when they got my card, to thank me,” said Maria. “They lost their only son when he stepped on an IED.”
She flips through a three ring binder at least four inches thick. It’s filled with the names of men and women across the country who have a child killed in action. Every month she sends out handwritten cards to every parent in the binder, telling them that someone is still thinking of them, and remembering the sacrifice their son or daughter made for this country.
“So for instance, starting with March 2002, I’ll go through and pick out all the parents who lost a child in the war zone in March, all the way through March 2016.”
In addition to the cards, there are care packages full of toiletries and other essential items that most deployed soldiers need when on duty overseas.
“They only have what they can take with them. There’s no Wal-Mart in the desert. If they get a hole in their sock they either have to fix it or deal with it.”
There’s “Camo Pack Kids”: essentially Blessings in a Backpack but for students who have both parents deployed. There are handmade blankets she sends to the wounded at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center. There are bags they fill with fresh clothing for the soldiers who have nothing when they arrive wounded to military hospitals in Germany.
And of course, there are cookies. Cookies are sort of Maria’s thing.
“I’ve been baking for years. One time when my kids were little and I was a den mother for their Boy Scout troop, we got the honor of baking cookies for the USS Lincoln. I figured if I could do that out of a regular kitchen, I can bake for soldiers. Not a problem.”
She bakes anywhere from 600 to 800 cookies a month to send overseas, by herself. Oatmeal, chocolate and peanut butter, white chocolate macadamia, it doesn’t matter. She sends the works. And it gets expensive.
With postage alone just on the condolence cards she can spend $150 to $400 a month at least. So to cover the cost of all these care packages, Maria has started selling her cookies to hungry Wyomingites.
In addition to working full time at the Bozeman Trail Steakhouse and going to school full time at Sheridan College for culinary hospitality management, Maria started Flour Power last year. It’s a bakery out of what was formerly her husband’s “man cave” in their home on Foote Street in Buffalo.
The commercially licensed bakery is filled floor to ceiling with cake pans, decorations, and pastry displays. The profit she makes from baking wedding cakes and custom cupcake orders goes entirely towards funding her military projects, part of Soldier’s Angels. Once she graduates, the plan is to continue serving people.
“I love working with people. I love the restaurant industry. I really enjoy seeing different people coming in and finding out where they’re from. Especially during Longmire Days and Sturgis when they come through.”
Maria grew up a military brat, as well, moving all over the world. She loves traveling and designs cakes for people around the Plains states. She’s already booked solid for June this year.
But first and foremost, she’s about taking care of soldiers.
“It’s just part of me. I want to help them.”